Shirley Strachan – circa 1979

 “I got the right day but I got the wrong week / And I get paid for just bein’ a freak” – ‘Living In The 70s’ (Greg Macainsh)

Skyhooks are there at the start.  The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s television program ‘Countdown’ plays a key role in the development of that country’s rock music scene.  Skyhooks appear on the very first episode, transmitted in black-and-white, on 18 November 1974.  This is only fitting since, at the time, Skyhooks are probably the hottest rock band in the country.  Their charismatic lead vocalist is Shirley Strachan – who is a man.  A woman is on stage with the group that day, but she is impersonating another member of the group.

The story of Skyhooks really begins with Greg Macainsh, their bass player, primary songwriter and chief visionary.  Gregory John Macainsh is born 30 December 1950 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.  He is the son of an English professor and a librarian.  Greg attends Norwood High School in Ringwood, Victoria.  A fellow student is Freddie Strauks, born Imants Alfred Strauks on 21 December 1950 in Melbourne.  “I first met up with him in 1961,” Greg recalls.  “Everyone wanted to play the guitar and we formed a high school band called The Spare Parts.”  This outfit is born in 1966.  Greg Macainsh plays bass in both this and the band it evolves into, Sound Pump, in 1968.  “Fred was a singer in those bands,” Greg points out.

Graeme Ronald Strachan (21 January 1952 – 29 August 2001) is born in Malvern, Victoria.  He is the son of Ronald and Joyce Strachan and the eldest of four children.  After the Second World War, Ronald Strachan became a carpenter, and his son, Graeme, shows every sign of following in his footsteps.  It is while he is at trade’s school that Graeme Strachan first hears about a band whose members include Greg Macainsh and Freddie Strauks.

In the late 1960s, Greg Macainsh and Freddie Strauks temporarily part ways.  Macainsh puts together a new band, Reuben Tice, with Tony Williams as lead vocalist.

In 1970 Greg Macainsh and Freddie Strauks are back together in a band called Claptrap.  However, this time Freddie is persuaded to play drums instead.

Graeme Strachan is, by this time, commonly referred to as Shirley.  The reason for this nickname is his curly hair which reminds some scamps of Shirley Temple, the little girl who was a movie star in the 1930s in Hollywood.  A keen surfer, when not working on his carpentry Shirl is often riding the waves at the beach.  “I’m just an average suburban boy,” he claims.  Shirley is also something of a singer.  He joins Claptrap just as the band metamorphoses into a new incarnation.

Frame is formed in 1971 with the line-up of: Shirley Strachan (vocals), Pat O’Brien (guitar), Cynthio Ooms (guitar), Greg Macainsh (bass) and Freddie Strauks (drums).  Shirley stays with the group for eighteen months but then decides to concentrate on his carpentry instead.

Greg Macainsh and Freddie Strauks revise the group again.  The next incarnation is the first to use the name Skyhooks.  A skyhook was a device dangled from beneath biplanes shortly after the First World War and made use of by daredevil stuntmen.  However, the Australian rock band Skyhooks are said to have named themselves after a fictional organisation in the film ‘Earth vs the Flying Saucers’ (1956).  The founding line-up of Skyhooks in March 1973 is: Steve Hill (vocals), Peter Inglis (guitar), Peter Starkie (guitar), Greg Macainsh (bass) and Freddie Strauks (drums).  They play their first gig at St Jude’s Hall in Carlton, Victoria.

It is Greg Macainsh’s idea for Skyhooks to dress up in costumes and wear make-up.  His purpose is said to be to make the group stand out from their peers.  In the early 1970s, glam rock is very popular in England.  A big part of glam is the outrageous outfits and make-up.  However, Skyhooks’ idea is to send-up that scene, rather than imitate it.  The distinction between mockery and homage may be lost on at least some of the audience.  Skyhooks come out of the inner city Carlton district in Victoria.  In the early 1970s it is an area known for intellectuals and university students.  It is also one of the prime theatrical and arts districts in Australia.  It is a crowd of leftist, post-hippie radicals; a freak show where Skyhooks’ carnival tent performer looks make them cultural totems.

Both Peter Inglis and Peter Starkie leave Skyhooks in July 1973.  Two new guitarists are needed.

Redmond Symons is born 13 June 1949 in Brighton, England, U.K.  His family immigrates to Australia in 1958.  Red passes through Emerald Primary School, Monbulk High School, and Upwey High School.  He studies Pure Maths and Computer Science at the University of Melbourne, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree.  For all his intellect, Red also has a flair for music and theatricality.  “If you put yourself on stage, it’s absurd not to wear costumes and make-up,” insists Red.  “You’re trying to represent something.  If you’re in a band, it’s pretty vain really [of such people] to get up on stage in their jeans, being themselves, and expect people are going to be interested in them.”  In the early 1970s, Red Symons plays in a band called Scumbag along with his girlfriend, Jenny Keath, and singer Jane Clifton.  From there, he joins Skyhooks.

The other newcomer to Skyhooks is Bob Starkie, born 26 July 1952 in Melbourne, Victoria.  He is the younger brother of departing Skyhooks guitarist Peter Starkie.  Bob recalls asking his brother, “Oh well, if you’re leaving, do you reckon I should audition?”  Bob modestly suggests, “I think Greg [Macainsh] hired me basically because he had no one else.”

In keeping with their flamboyant appearance, Bob Starkie and Freddie Strauks also decide to adopt colourful stagenames, becoming – respectively – Bongo Starr and Freddie Kaboodleschnitzer.  Bob Starkie’s new handle is probably inspired by the drummer of 1960s British rock sensations, The Beatles.  He was born Richard Starkey but became better known as Ringo Starr.

As Skyhooks gig around Melbourne, they make a couple of influential contacts.  The first is Ross Wilson.  Leading light of fellow Australian rock band Daddy Cool (1970 – 1974), Wilson is impressed with the compositions of Greg Macainsh.  The other important new acquaintance is a hustling would-be entrepreneur named Michael Gudinski.  In 1972 Gudinski and his partner, Ray Evans, formed Mushroom Records, an independent label.  Their first release was a triple album recording of the ‘Sunbury Pop Festival’ (1973).  In 1973 Mushroom also releases albums by prog rock act Madder Lake and jazz rockers McKenzie Theory.  Michael Gudinski has it in mind that Skyhooks should sign with his company.

Skyhooks’ notoriety grows.  However, after seeing himself on television, the group’s vocalist, Steve Hill, decides to quit.  Presumably, he feels a bit too self-conscious about the gaudy outfits and extreme cosmetics.  (Steve Hill passes away on 31 October 2005.)  Hills’ departure from the band provokes a mini-crisis.  Ross Wilson considers taking over as Skyhooks’ vocalist.  Michael Gudinski fears the band is finished.  Instead, the group’s former singer from their days as Frame, Shirley Strachan, is persuaded to rejoin.

So in February 1974 the definitive Skyhooks line-up is assembled: Shirley Strachan (vocals), Red Symons (guitar), Bongo Starr (guitar), Greg Macainsh (bass) and Freddie Kaboodleschnitzer (drums).

Shirley Strachan takes care of the business end of Skyhooks until they become too popular for him to handle the chore in addition to his work as vocalist.  Mushroom Records’ Michael Gudinski takes up the challenge of being the group’s manager.  Shirley describes Gudinski as “the sixth member of Skyhooks.”  With Ross Wilson serving as producer, Skyhooks begin work on their first album.

Skyhooks is not an easy act to categorise.  Because of the costumes and make-up they are sometimes classed as glam rock, but they were a bit late to that party.  Equally, they are sometimes thought of as a punk band because of their irreverent attitude, but they are a bit too early for that movement.  Red Symons suggests that, “The good thing about Skyhooks was they were themselves.  I think that’s a good model for any band.  You can go and copy this kind of act or that kind of act.  The thing about Skyhooks was we’re just us…Be yourself…as long as you’re like us,” he adds wickedly.  Skyhooks’ clearest forerunners are 1950s American rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry and 1960s Brit rock group The Rolling Stones.  Berry’s playful and literate lyrics had a satirical edge and his bursts of guitar kept it lively.  The Rolling Stones were also fans of Chuck Berry, but where Berry’s guitar played off against Johnnie Johnson’s piano, The Stones used two guitarists.  Red Symonds and Bongo Starr emulate this sort of rough guitar interplay.  Skyhooks’ audience is strangely divided.  On one hand, they appeal to the artsy intelligentsia, but they also attract packs of squealing teenage girls.  This gives Skyhooks critical respect and popular appeal at the same time.  It is probably most accurate to simply call Skyhooks a rock / pop band.

Shirley Strachan tends to be the most normal looking of the crew…despite the gender confusion of his name.  “We’re not camp,” he protests.  Shirl is a lovable motor-mouthed larrikin.  He is cheeky, but endearing.  “He [Shirl] was really the glue between us and the audience,” says Bongo Starr.  “I think Shirl brought it to the masses.  He was just a natural.”  Red Symons favours white face make-up in the style of Japanese Noh theatre.  He habitually dresses in red, offset by some black.  “Gotta wear the frocks!” he japes, but doesn’t actually wear women’s clothes.  All right, there are capes and leggings and some gender neutral garments, but it’s not a drag show.  Red’s wit can easily become cruel.  Recounting his appearance on television show ‘Blind Date’ he pouts, “They were all so nice about it, I had no choice but to be offensive.”  The banter between Shirl and Red is consistently entertaining, with Shirl’s good nature taking the edge off Red’s worst excesses.  Bongo Starr’s usual stage attire is a striped jumpsuit.  With severe emphasis on his cheekbones via make-up, he is crowned with a plume of white hair (or is it fur?).  Greg Macainsh dresses all in white, like a cowboy dipped in flour, his face equally pallid under make-up.  Freddie Kaboodleschnitzer favours a semi-militaristic ensemble that makes him look like he has escaped from Kaiser Wilhelm’s brass band.  “It definitely wouldn’t be Skyhooks if we didn’t dress up,” claims Macainsh.

Perhaps the most important and distinctive element of Skyhooks is the songs of Greg Macainsh.  “There’s a lot of love songs around.  It’s pretty hard to compete,” he says.  “I write more about life and what happens to me…That’s exactly what Chuck Berry did.”  But, just as Berry documented his environment with references to “old St.Lou[is]” and “Memphis, Tennessee”, Macainsh writes of Carlton, Toorak and Balwyn – the suburbs of Melbourne.  This is new in Australian rock.  Cultural cringe saw Australia’s biggest bands of the past like The Easybeats (‘St. Louis’) and Daddy Cool (‘Please, Please America’) courting foreign success by referring to more rock ‘n’ roll (i.e. American) place names.  Australian locales only featured in antipodean country music or novelty songs, as though Aboriginal place names were something embarrassing.  Macainsh changes that.  “Australia just…came to accept you can say Toorak or place names and they won’t freak about it,” Macainsh explains.  “Y’know, in Adelaide [the capital city of South Australia], they say the band come over and sings all these songs about Melbourne [Victoria’s capital city] but,” Macainsh shrugs, “that’s a good thing in itself.”  It helps that Skyhooks’ bass player also possesses a droll wit and delights in skewering the conventions of the time – within the framework of a rollicking rock song.

Skyhooks’ first – and best – album is released in June 1974.  ‘Living In The 70s’ (1974) (AUS no. 1), like the band’s next two albums, is produced by Ross Wilson.  The title track of the album, ‘Living In The 70s’ (AUS no. 8), is ‘lost on the way, only a hit in Melbourne.’  “I can remember when we first rehearsed the song ‘Living In The 70s’ we were in Bob Starkie’s lounge room in River Street, South Yarra [Victoria] and that was in early 1974,” claims Greg Macainsh.  Amid plunging chord changes, the song is riddled with itchy paranoia.  If the hippie era of the late 1960s spilled into the early 1970s, this song draws a line and declares the arrival of a new decade in cultural, not just calendar, terms.  The album’s biggest hit is ‘Horror Movie’ (AUS no. 1).  With its howling introduction and some synthesiser from Ross Wilson, ‘Horror Movie’ adopts the shock rock characteristics of such acts as U.S. singer Alice Cooper.  However (spoiler warning!) the sting is in the tail: “Horror movie and it’s blown a fuse / Horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news.”  Macainsh sadly and sagely points out that reality has become more terrifying than imagination.  It is ‘Horror Movie’ Skyhooks perform on the first episode of ‘Countdown’.  Greg Macainsh is in hospital with hepatitis at the time, so Red Symons’ girlfriend, Jenny Keath, dresses up in Macainsh’s suit for the show.  (Skyhooks also appear on the first colour episode of ‘Countdown’ in 1975.)  Over the course of their career, six Skyhooks songs are banned for being too rude.  Shirley Strachan protests, “They’re not rude and perverted.  They’re down to earth.”  Exhibit A is ‘You Just Like Me Cos I’m Good In Bed’.  It’s cheeky, risqué and bawdy – but is saved by not being serious.  The narrator (played by Shirl) moans about the demands of his lover.  “You imagine yourself as Mick Jagger’s girlfriend,” he sings in a nod to The Rolling Stones’ vocalist.  Exhibit B is ‘Smut’, a song written and sung by Red Symons.  This explains how he sneaks into a cinema and uses an emptied bag of Twisties (an Australian corn-based snack food) to disguise his self-abuse.  “I consider my masturbation experiences to be quite ordinary,” sniffs Red in response to an interviewer’s question.  The rave-up rocker ‘Balwyn Calling’ refers to the Melbourne suburb and, like ‘You Just Like Me Cos I’m Good In Bed’, has the male protagonist suffering from the overly ardent attentions of a female admirer.  The ‘Hooks also display a wider social conscience, asking ‘Whatever Happened To The Revolution?’ about the loss of 1960s idealism.  ‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’ casts an eye over their immediate environs, as does ‘Toorak Cowboy’, though the latter is a spikier send-up.  ‘Living In The 70s’ spends sixteen weeks atop Australia’s album chart which is, at the time, ‘the longest run of any Australian album.’  The success of the album also helps ensure the viability of Mushroom Records.

Greg Macainsh had written the core of the next Skyhooks album even before recording sessions commenced on ‘Living In The 70s’‘Ego Is Not A Dirty Word’ (1975) (AUS no. 1) arrives in July.  It clocks up another eleven weeks at the top of the charts.  Leading the charge is the title track, ‘Ego (Is Not A Dirty Word’ (AUS no. 2).  Guitars pinging and ringing all about him, Shirley Strachan battles through, singing, “And if you did not have an ego, you might not care too much who won / And if I did not have an ego, I might just use a gun.”  The track name-drops Jesus Christ, former U.S. President Richard Nixon and glum folk poet Leonard Cohen.  ‘Ego (Is Not A Dirty Word)’ is Skyhooks’ best song.  Its endorsement of fulsome self-confidence ably matches the bravado of the band’s image.  The whiplash of its guitar riffs also typifies the ‘Hooks sound at its height.  ‘Saturday Night’ looks at suburban weekend cruising.  ‘All My Friends Are Getting Married’ (AUS no. 2) opens a new sub-genre of Skyhooks songs.  When Greg Macainsh takes his foot off the accelerator, Skyhooks adopt almost country music overtones.  It’s a genuinely touching sketch of getting older: “He said that he was married with a kid / Showed me a picture of his wife / And we talked about all the things we did.”  In a case of life imitating art, Shirley Strachan takes off to England around the same time as this song is released to ask his wandering fiancée, Sandy, to marry him.  She had left Australia thinking there was no room for her in her partner’s life now that Shirl is a big pop star.  The first the rest of Skyhooks hear about their frontman’s marriage is when the read it in the newspapers.  It is a fairly short-lived marriage.  By 1975 Shirley is married to his second wife, Sue.

Skyhooks popularity in Australia is now so massive that, as a natural consequence, thoughts turn to overseas.  As plans begin to be made, late in 1975 the group releases a new single, ‘Million Dollar Riff’ (AUS no. 2).  With unstoppable momentum, this pell-mell rush is an account of the agony of searching for a catchy hook for a song: “Well I worked it out before I went to bed / But in the morning it went clean outta my head / It’s like winnin’ Tatts, but losin’ the ticket / ‘Cos you known the tune, buy you just can’t pick it.”  ‘Tatts’ is Tattersall’s, a lottery with a cash prize.

An interesting side note is that Shirley Strachan is still practicing his carpentry.  He often picks up a hammer and does work backstage.  He also does carpentry jobs independently to help pay the bills because, even at the height of Skyhooks’ fame, money is still tight.

Skyhooks perform some elaborate temporary ‘farewell’ gigs for Australia and then head off to the United States.  They leave behind a 1976 single, a live version of Chuck Berry’s 1963 song ‘Let It Rock’ (AUS no. 13).  As well as paying tribute to one of the act’s main influences, it features Red Symons’ ‘famous coughing solo’ in place of a guitar solo.

For all their brashness, Skyhooks find the U.S.A. resistant to their charms.  “We didn’t make a big impression,” admits Red Symons.  Bongo Starr notes, “The experience was a little bit too much for all the members.”

An uncharacteristically chastened Skyhooks return to Australia for ‘The Brats are Back’ tour.  Adjustments begin to seep into the act.  The costumes and make-up are toned down to a point of virtual non-existence.  Bongo Starr and Freddie Kaboodleschnitzer return to being known as Bob Starkie and Freddie Strauks.  Perhaps most importantly, the music of the band takes on a heavier, hard rock edge.

The first fruit of the new approach is the 1976 single ‘This Is My City’ (AUS no. 18).  “Back in the land of pie and sauce / Drinkin’ flat beer with no third course,” bellows Shirley Strachan.  Greg Macainsh’s satirical tone may have been lost on some of the audience, but the rougher, more metallic, sound carries the song anyway.

‘Straight In A Gay, Gay World’ (1976) (AUS no. 2) is released in October.  This album includes the prior singles ‘Million Dollar Riff’ and ‘This Is My City’.  ‘Blue Jeans’ (AUS no. 12) is more acoustic, a mock country song about populism.  “Everybody’s wearin’ blue jeans / Everybody’s got their own scenes,” run the sing-along lyrics.  It’s a clever comment on the fact that people remain individuals despite the ubiquity of denim apparel.  Even Skyhooks, who once would not be seen without satins and circus outfits, now dress down like all the bands from whom they once sought to differentiate themselves.  ‘Crazy Heart’ has a bit of a country twang to it as well, but is otherwise a surprisingly straight-faced take on a lovelorn man who just can’t find the right woman.

Shirley Strachan begins a parallel solo career with the October 1976 single ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ (AUS no. 3).  It is a track first recorded by Motown artist Brenda Holloway in 1964, then by two of Britain’s better rock bands of the 1960s: The Spencer Davis Group in 1965 and The Small Faces in 1969.  ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ latest version is credited to, simply, Shirley (no surname).

Guitarist Red Symons ‘isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with leader Greg Macainsh over songwriting or business.’  He releases a solo single in 1976, ‘It’s Only A Flipside’, a sour comment on the fate of most of his own compositions.  Symons is ‘forced out’ of the group.  Years later, Red is philosophical about his exit: “I have the satisfaction of knowing [what it was] like to be in a hugely successful rock band.”  He adds, “It was over quickly enough to necessitate getting on with the rest of your life.”

In February 1977 Red Symons’ place in Skyhooks is assumed by a new guitarist.  Bob Spencer is born 5 September 1957.  Spencer grows up in the south-eastern suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales.  Before joining Skyhooks he plays guitar from 1973 to 1977 in Finch, an Australian hard rock band.  Spencer’s addition to the Skyhooks’ line-up confirms the band’s drift towards a more hard rock orientation.

Skyhooks only new material in 1977 is the single ‘Party To End All Parties’ (AUS no. 22).  Revellers headed to this wild get-together become lost.  “Well we got the right street / But we got the wrong number / Then like a shot in the dark, we heard that thunder,” warns Shirley Strachan, effectively introducing Bob Spencer who proceeds to call up said ‘thunder’ on his guitar.

Shirley Strachan releases another solo single in 1977, a cover version of the Motown pop hit ‘Tracks Of My Tears’, first recorded by the author, Smokey Robinson, with his band The Miracles, in 1965.

American record producer Eddie Leonetti is brought in to oversee Skyhooks’ fourth album, ‘Guilty Until Proven Insane’ (1978) (AUS no. 6).  Released in March, this disc continues the progress of Skyhooks from pop to hard rock to what could now sometimes be called heavy metal.  The album’s best known song is ‘Women In Uniform’ (AUS no. 8), a song inspired by a security officer in a mini-skirt whom the group encountered in the U.S.A.  This is a metal theme for kinky fetishists turned on by “A peaked cap and a badge or two.”  A lascivious eye is cast over Patrolwoman Saunders; a stewardess on a 747 jetliner; a nurse at the clinic; and Sergeant Anita, the commando in khaki.  Drummer Freddie Strauks pens the flat-out ‘BBBBBBBBBoogie’ and gets to show off why he may be the most impressive musician in the group, though it is Shirley Strachan – as usual – who handles the vocals.  ‘Megalomania’ (AUS no. 93) is a more musically reserved effort, but it takes shots at dictators and the power-hungry.  And, just to show that Skyhooks haven’t lost their appetite for outrage, one of the tracks is titled ‘Why Don’t You All Get F***ed?’

In June 1978 Shirley Strachan tells Greg Macainsh he wants to leave Skyhooks ‘and pursue other interests, like television.’  Greg urges him to take six months and think it over.

Skyhooks mark time with the concert album ‘Live! Be In It’ (1978).  The name is a pun on a series of Government sponsored advertisements, ‘Life – Be In It’, encouraging a more active lifestyle.

Shirley Strachan puts out another solo single in 1978, ‘Mr Summer’, but ‘by Christmas 1978’ he’s decided to leave Skyhooks.

Shirley Strachan stars in the Seven Network’s children’s program, ‘Shirl’s Neighbourhood’ (1979 – 1983).  He issues two solo single in 1979, ‘Christmas In The Neighbourhood’ and ‘Nothing But The Best’, and then goes on to release his only full-length solo album, ‘It’s All Rock ‘N’ Roll To Me’ (1980).

Without Shirley Strachan, one of Australian rock’s most recognisable frontmen, Skyhooks are left in something of a quandary.  Who can take his place?  Some, including Red Symons, suggest they should avoid unwanted comparisons by taking on a female vocalist instead.  The most likely candidate in such circumstances would seem to be Jane Clifton, Red’s former colleague from Scumbag, who has been leading a new wave band called Stiletto (1976 – 1978).  It’s an interesting thought, but it is not to be.  Instead, Greg Macainsh opts to bring in Tony Williams in January 1979.  Macainsh and Williams worked together in Reuben Tice around a decade earlier.

Skyhooks’ first project with Tony Williams is the 1979 single ‘Over The Border’ (AUS no. 32).  This barnstorming performance is one of Skyhooks’ more underrated efforts.  In 1979, Queensland (the tropical, northernmost State on Australia’s east coast) is under the control of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.  An eccentric ultra-conservative, he brings in a number of policies – such as restricting civil liberties – that are controversial.  Skyhooks’ ‘Over The Border’ documents an ‘escape’ from Queensland to its southern neighbour, New South Wales.  The lyrics of the song say, in part, “I got me a mango / One day they’re gonna hang Joh.”  Such sentiments generate ire in some segments of the population, but it is standard practice for Skyhooks to be a bit outrageous.

‘Hot For The Orient’ (1980) includes ‘Over The Border’.  Also present is ‘This Town Is Boring’, an almost punk rock number, and ‘Keep The Junk In America’, sung by Bob Starkie.  The album fails to chart and Skyhooks shudders to a halt.  Their last show is at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia on 8 June 1980.  In typically understated fashion, Skyhooks take out a full-page advertisement in Australia’s rock press publications advising of their disbanding and telling their detractors, in the words of one of their songs, ‘Why Don’t You All Get F***ed?’

Freddie Strauks works with Australian new wave band The Sports from 1980 to 1981.

The classic Skyhooks line-up – Shirley Strachan, Red Symons, Bob Starkie, Greg Macainsh and Freddie Strauks – reunite for a tour starting on 23 April 1983.  This ‘Living In The 80s’ tour produces the concert recording ‘Live In The 80s’ (1983).  The same personnel assemble again for a reunion concert in October 1984.

In the mid-1980s Red Symons begins appearing on the Nine Network’s television variety program ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’.  Red plays in the house band and is a judge in ‘Red Faces’, the show’s (very!) amateur talent contest.  The latter gives Red plenty of scope to use his best withering put-downs.  Red Symons remains affiliated with ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ until the show’s demise in 1999.  During this time he also issues two solo singles: ‘The Big Time’ in 1987 and ‘Sex Appeal’ in 1988.  Red Symons also gets married.  He and his wife, Elly, have three sons: Samuel, Raphael and Joel.

Former Skyhook Bob Spencer joins Australian hard rock band The Angles from 1986 to 1992.

The definitive Skyhooks line-up regroups again in 1990.  This time, they release a new single, ‘Jukebox In Siberia’ (AUS no. 1) in October 1990.  The song is classic ‘Hooks fare.  Inspired by Chuck Berry, it basically has a ball throwing together every cliché and reference to Russia that Greg Macainsh can bring to mind.  Ross Fraser produces this and another new song, ‘Tall Timber’, that are added to the compilation album ‘The Latest And Greatest’ (1990) that goes ‘top ten’ in Australia.

Shirley Strachan makes use of his carpentry skills as a regular guest on the Nine Network’s television program ‘Our House’ (1993 -2001) in the early 1990s.

The next Skyhooks reunion in 1994 sees them sharing the bill with a reassembled Daddy Cool, the group featuring Skyhooks’ original record producer, Ross Wilson.  Skyhooks contribute a new song, ‘Happy Hippie Hut’ (AUS no. 35), to a dual EP from the two bands.  When sales are poor, the tour is downgraded.

‘The Collection’ (1999) is a two disc set from Skyhooks.  One disc contains their greatest hits but the other is ‘The Lost Album’ recorded around the time of ‘Jukebox In Siberia’ but put on the shelf.

Shirley Strachan finds a new hobby, flying helicopters.  However this leads to tragedy.  Due to unexpected turbulence during a solo flight, his helicopter crashes near Maroochydore, Queensland, on 29 August 2001.  The accident is fatal.  Graeme ‘Shirley’ Strachan was 49.  He is survived by his wife, Sue.  Shirley had no children.

Red Symons is a regular part of ‘The Brains Trust’ panel on the ABC Network’s television quiz show ‘The Einstein Factor’ (2004 – 2009).

Television helped introduce Skyhooks to a wide audience.  The medium was well-suited to their larger-than-life personalities.  This is underlined by the television careers subsequently enjoyed by the group’s two highest profile members, Shirley Strachan and Red Symons.  “The band wasn’t afraid to speak its own mind,” Shirley Strachan pointed out.  This ‘ego’ served them well.  In combination with the witty, observant and catchy songs of Greg Macainsh, this forthright manner made them formidable.  Skyhooks were exciting, entertaining and colourful.  Skyhooks ‘gave the Australian music industry the enema it had needed.’  ‘In the mid-1970s Skyhooks shook and shaped Australian rock.’


  1. as at 10 February 2014
  2. – ‘Sweet Jean’s Sweet Hooks’ – Uncredited author, as at 25 March 2014
  3. as at 14 March 2014
  4. ‘Sunday’ (Australian television program, Nine Network) – ‘Skyhooks: Living In The Seventies’ (12 June 2005) (text reproduced on
  5. ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ (Sydney, Australia newspaper) – Shirley Strachan obituary by Jen Jewel Brown (31 August 2001) (reproduced on
  6. ‘GTK’ (Get To Know) (Australian television program, ABC Network) (1 January 1975)
  7. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 103, 104, 117
  8. ‘The Big Australian Rock Book’, ‘Introduction – Australian Rock’s Independent Spirit’ by Paul Gardiner (Megabooks, 1985) p. 11
  9. ‘GTK’ (Australian television program, ABC Network) (1974? 1975?)
  10. ARIA Awards (Australian Recording Industry Association) – Skyhooks induction to the ARIA Hall of Fame (6 March 1992)
  11. ‘A Current Affair’ (Australian television program, Nine Network) (27 September 1994)
  12., ‘Skyhooks’ by Ed Nimmervoll as at 23 August 2001
  13. ‘Shirl’ by Jeff Apter – referenced in ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia newspaper) (11 October 2012) p. 43
  14. ‘The Latest And Greatest’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Mushroom Records P/L, 1990) p. 6
  15. ‘A Quick ‘Hook History’ by Peter Green as at 14 March 2014 (reproduced on
  16. as at 25 March 2014

Song lyrics copyright Doo Dah / Mushroom Music with the exceptions of ‘This Is My City’, ‘Party To End All Parties’, ‘Women In Uniform’ and ‘Over The Border’ (all Solid / Mushroom Music)

Last revised 6 May 2014


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