John Dunn
July 07, 1980 12:00 PM

Down Under’s no place to go over the top in music, or so reckoned ambitious émigrées over the years like the Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John. Yet the five Aussies of the Little River Band are now proving that self-exile isn’t necessary.

Currently, LRB is barnstorming 17 U.S. cities, riding the crest of six Top 20 hits since 1977, including last year’s Lonesome Loser and Cool Change and their current live double LP, Backstage Pass. But this is only a visit. With three gold and two platinum LPs behind them, they can record and survive comfortably at home. Still, the Little River sound—sparkling guitars, rock-solid rhythm bottom and high, clear-water harmonies—evokes Malibu more than Melbourne.

“Australia doesn’t have a sound of its own,” says lead singer Glenn Shorrock, “so we draw on everything.” They carefully avoid New Wave. “I don’t like it myself,” says singer-guitarist Gerard “Beeb” Birtles. “We’re pretty safe with this kind of music.” Adds Shorrock: “We’re a class act that doesn’t worry about whether we get mass hysteria. We simply want respect.”

Right now they’re the most respected act in Australia—but they also stirred more hysteria than Fleetwood Mac when they made the circuit together in 1977. Actually, only guitarists Briggs, 29, and Graham Goble, 33, are native Australians. Drummer Derek Pellicci, 27, and Shorrock, 35, were born in Britain, and Birtles, 32, is from Holland. For all five, music was an escape from blue-collar-to-middling economic backgrounds. Beatlemania was also an inducement, admits Pellicci. “I said to myself, ‘All those screaming females!’ That was for me.”

Pellicci, Birtles and Goble first banded together as Mississippi in 1971, gigging long and hard in pubs. In 1974 they pooled their savings, $8,500, and split for London. They were broke within six weeks, but had at least met their catalytic vocalist, Shorrock. Back home, living on $40 a week unemployment, the humbled foursome decided to try again—adding two new members and a new name. Recalls Shorrock: “We were driving outside Melbourne when we saw this sign, EXIT—LITTLE RIVER. We thought, perfect.”

After its debut LP, Little River Band, the group changed personnel—latching onto Briggs—and started to rise, first at home and then in the U.S. with its rousing 1977 rocker Help Is on Its Way. So was gold when Diamantina Cocktail, their second LP, surpassed 500,000 sales. “With four songwriters in the group, we could tick for years,” figures Shorrock. But it will be a rather quiet tick. All five are married and devotedly domestic. Reports Birtles: “Actually, the roles are reversed. It’s the doctor in the neighborhood and his Saturday night parties that keep me awake.”

On a typical off day, Birtles putters in the garden at his home in a middle-class Melbourne suburb. A few blocks away, Pellicci mows the lawn. Across town, Briggs polishes his extensive guitar collection and drives a ’72 VW. Goble, keen on privacy, keeps to his farm and family, with two infants, outside Melbourne. Meanwhile, 600 miles away in Sydney, Shorrock, the token big spender, zooms around in a BMW and a speedboat at his harbor-side home.

It’s unlikely the band will ever forsake all that for the faster lanes of New York or L.A. “We could probably double our income by moving to America,” notes Goble. But, chimes in Birtles, “It’s become patriotic for us to stay in Australia. Why, the people here even gave us the keys to the city of Melbourne.” Then he grins, conceding the low-key reality that the LRB appreciates about their home. “Actually, the city had run out of keys, so they gave us cuff links instead.”

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