Grasping Smith – the cheerful embodiment of psychological as anything else's …


Late 70s Sydney was alive with music. Utterly unrecognisable from the locked-out landscape of today, venues large and small were scattered throughout the inner city and central business district, up through the northern beaches and out to the beer barns of the suburbs.

And, in the wake of punk’s DIY ethos, there were plenty of bands ready to fill the stages.

About Greedy
Greedy may refer to:

Greedy Smith: the cheerful embodiment of Mental as Anything's …

About Smith:

It was into this scene that Mental as Anything, featuring Andrew “Greedy” Smith, who on Monday died of a heart attack, was formed. Following in a tradition of other bands including Pink Floyd, Roxy Music and Talking Heads, the members met at art school and, in 1976, formed a group to play an eclectic blend of power pop, blues, country and rockabilly.

Mentals’ first residency immediately entered into local lore: for a year they played a weekly gig using the pool table at the Unicorn Hotel in Paddington as a stage. From there they moved to the Civic Hotel, just one of many venues, that held gigs most nights of the week, and also booked Midnight Oil, the Church and Flowers (the original Icehouse).

Greedy Smith: the cheerful embodiment of Mental as Anything's …

Rockabilly had had something of a renaissance in the UK after punk, with acts including the Stray Cats and hits for the 60s musician Dave Edmunds. There was a mini explosion of blues and rockabilly acts in Australia, too. But there were also groups heavily influenced by the Detroit scene and 60s garage rock, electronic acts and power pop groups. Many broke up. Others, like the Sunnyboys, Hoodoo Gurus, Cold Chisel and INXS, went on to bigger things.

The scene was so lively it wasn’t uncommon to go from one gig to another before finishing the night at the legendary Manzil Room in Potts Point, where yet another group was playing a gruelling four sets a night and the clients drank till after dawn.

Mentals began as a party band and that never really changed. You went to see them to dance. In 1979 Rockpile, featuring Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, played the Stagedoor Tavern in the city with Mentals as support. A fan of both groups, I turned up with a leg in a plaster cast after having been hit by a car. I was determined not to miss it, dancing or no dancing (there was no dancing).

Greedy’s affability and cheerfulness seemed the embodiment of the group’s upbeat songs. He was singer, songwriter, harmonica player, keyboardist and always an entertainer, larger than life in suit jacket and cravat.

Martin Plaza wrote their first chart hit, the drinking song The Nips Are Getting Bigger, but it wasn’t long before Greedy’s song Too Many Times (another drinking reference) hit the top 10. He quickly followed with two more: You’re So Strong and the melancholy pop song Live it Up, which was also a top five hit in the UK.

Chris O’Doherty, AKA Reg Mombassa, and his brother Peter also wrote and sang. The four singers and four songwriters gave the band an eclectic sound, with witty and sometimes surreal lyrics marking their work out as Mental as Anything songs.

Smith was the last remaining original member of the band. Plaza had given up playing due to ill health. The O’Doherty brothers both left for successful art careers and to play together in the band Dog Trumpet. The drummer Dave Twohill was no longer a member after falling out with Plaza and Smith.

But Mental as Anything have left a cache of songs that can rightly be called Australian classics. They are filled with indelible choruses and riffs and, more importantly, tell us stories of who we are. There are the drinking songs (The Nips Are Getting Bigger, Too Many Times, Apocalypso); the smart-arse songs (If You Leave Me … Can I Come Too?) the song about sex and mull and surf and fun (Sex Mull Surf Fun), the song about Abba breaking up (Berserk Warriors) …

Mombassa, speaking about the passing of his former bandmate, told Channel Nine, “Apart from being a fantastic entertainer and a gifted songwriter, I think Greedy was the most cheerful and positive person I’ve ever met.”

It’s customary to speak well of the recently departed, but there are few who would disagree with Mombassa’s words. The world is a little bit duller without Smith’s warm and engaging presence.

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