Songs of 84: Sweet and Sour /The Takeaways

In 1984 there was still a budget for locally produced TV series about fictional inner-city rock bands. The ABC bankrolled one such series named Sweet and Sour in 1984, with 20 episodes following the creation of a new band called The Takeaways, with two female musicians and two male musicians, jamming together in a warehouse space that was formerly a boot factory in the inner suburbs of Sydney.

Sweet and Sour starred Tracey Mann as Carol, described in the press release as a “Melbourne Refugee who wrote her first song on the train ride to Sydney (it was a long song).James Reyne’s brother David Reyne stars as Martin, a working musician on the Sydney pub circuit who has just been fired from his band. Martin meets a fan called Darrell and he agrees to help Martin start a new band and be their manager. He finds Carol in a coffee shop and ropes her in, and also finds a very shy George (Arky Michael) and music student Christine (Sandra Lillingston) and finds them space in inner city Pyrmont to start making music.

As the actors weren’t confident (or competent even) singers, on record and on screen the singing voices of Carol were played by Deborah Conway (then of Do Re Mi), Christine was voiced by Cathy Macquade, and Martin’s vocals was done by John Clifforth (the latter two were from Deckchairs Overboard).


The music was spearheaded by Martin Armiger, formerly of Melbourne band The Sports. In tandem with Graham Bidstrup (formerly of The Angels) and program creators Tim Gooding and Joanna Pigott, formerly of XL Capris and the then romantic and songwriting partner of Todd Hunter of Dragon, they corralled a who’s who of the Australian music scene, with some lesser known names and some heavy hitters, to write songs and play on the tracks. Songs were contributed by David McComb of The Triffids, Don Walker of Cold Chisel, the aforementioned Pigott and Hunter, New Zealand born songwriter Sharon O’Neill, Reg Mombassa of Mental as Anything, Billy Miller of the Ferrets, Mark Callaghan of The Riptides, Red Symons of Skyhooks, and Eric McCusker of Mondo Rock.


The title track of the show was a top 10 hit in 1984, voiced by Deborah Conway and written by Sharon O’Neill, who was on a court-imposed hiatus from her recording career due to a legal battle with her record label. Playing on the track was Armiger, as well as contributions from Tommy Emmanuel (on bass guitar would you believe!), Freddie Strauks (Skyhooks), Ricky Fataar (The Rutles and Olivia Newton John), Red Symons, Rick Grossman (Divinyls and Hoodoo Gurus), Chris Bailey (The Angels), and more. It is instantly identifiable and still sounds great today, although some of the rest of the tracks from the album sound very dated.


Don Walker contributed a track to the show and the soundtrack album called “It’s a Game”, and featured vocals from Ian Moss. This version was recorded shortly after their band Cold Chisel folded. However, the song itself was recorded in sessions in 1982 by Chisel with Jimmy Barnes on vocals, earmarked for a possible future album but it was omitted from their next and final album Twentieth Century. It did, however, see a release in 1995 as a single from the vault-clearing album “Teenage Love”.


Sweet and Sour went to air in late 1984 and into 1985. While it was a success, it has become something of a footnote in the careers of all who were a part of it, and forgotten by most people who were alive in 1984 to possibly watch it. The original licensing agreements with songwriters and artists meant that the show has never been re-broadcast since the late 80s, never been reissued on DVD or VHS and is never likely to be. The music was originally issued on two separate soundtrack LPs, the first one selling platinum in 1985 (over 70,000 copies) and it has seen a CD reissue in 2010 and is available on streaming platforms.


The entire program itself has been uploaded to YouTube, in transfers made from somebody’s old VHS recordings from the original broadcast. It is worth a look, if only for seeing a grittier inner city with old cars and pre-gentrified buildings with cheaper rent. It’s also worth watching for the cameos by legendary Australian musicians like Ignatius Jones, Jon English as the vinyl cutting engineer and Renee Geyer as a waitress on the train from Melbourne to Sydney!


If nothing else, this now-obscure TV show, and the serendipitous collective of musicians working in it, led to the meeting of three musicians – Graham Bidstrup, Chris Bailey and Mark Callaghan – and the creation of a band that has soundtracked our lives for 40 years and still lives on classic hits radio: GANGgajang.


David Kowalski, a writer and podcaster, is celebrating songs that turn 40 this year.


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