Image: Leif Ekstrom
The late ’70s and ’80s was a landmark era for Brisbane’s music and youth cultures; and the creative, subversive and DIY nature of the scene is now on display in an immersive and revealing exhibition at the State Library of Queensland.
‘Cut Copy: Brisbane Music Posters 1977-87’ is a collection of over 350 rare, handmade music posters that came together from attics and half-forgotten storage boxes after an inspired hunt by John Willsteed.
For Willsteed, formerly a member of The Go-Betweens and currently guitarist with Halfway and a Senior Lecturer at QUT, the collection involves not only a journey into the history of Brisbane’s music scene, but of his younger self and legacy.
“I have a lot of first-hand knowledge around these posters,” Willsteed says. “I designed some of them, I printed some of them, and I knew all the other people who designed and printed them. It wasn’t a very big scene and everybody knew everybody else. So, maybe this is the last opportunity to grab information from all these people and stick it onto these objects before we all sail off into the west like the elves.”
After a determined search, items came flooding in from around Queensland and further afield, with some from as far away as Spain.
“I had this idea that I would try and collect as many posters as I could; from people that I knew from the ‘scene’, for want of a better way of describing it,” Willsteed says. “I also realised that these people are in their sixties, their kids are growing up, they’ve been hanging on to stuff for a really long time as it was an important part of their youth. Maybe, though it was time to get rid of it and I really wanted them to get rid of it in a place where people would look after it and people could access it forever instead of stuffing it into a wheelie bin or skip. I put a word out on Facebook and collected about 350 items from maybe 20 people. I then spent a summer getting all the relevant details around it and building a database; who the artists and venues were and things like that. Often, posters don’t have a lot on them; many don’t have the year or month and they’ll just have ‘Friday 16th’ at some hall somewhere.”
While the collection will be a trip down a possibly hazy and fun memory lane for many, it also tells important stories about the political and social landscapes of the time.
“We were all on the dole and it was a really creative, productive time,” Willsteed says. “The political times are reflected really obviously, as some posters have images of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Russ Hinze. Some of them are fundraising gigs, called dances in those days, for campaigns against nuclear power or for people who were paying fines for being arrested in street marches, which were banned in Queensland at the time. The government was anti-youth and used to bust up these dances a lot. The posters also track the existence of bands and venues of the time. 4ZZZ was a force in the late-’70s and became a really important feature of the live music landscape. They booked a lot of international bands and put local bands on those bills. At the same time, there was not much middle ground [between genres] and there were a lot of independent shows in small halls; some still exist and some don’t.”
With such a variety of items on display, the collection holds treasure for every music fan to find.
“There’s a great XTC poster from the early ’80s advertising them playing at Cloudland,” Willsteed says. “As a band that doesn’t tour internationally any more at a venue that doesn’t exist any more, that’s pretty special. There were a few things of mine that I didn’t have copies of that I was surprised to see again. There’s something about the individual nature of them that’s very soothing.