In 1966, while popular Melbourne band The Untouchables were playing at the Maas Cabaret in St Kilda, bass player and lead vocalist Charlie Bayliss was approached by an entrepreneur named Michael Kopp, who had observed the worldwide phenomenon of British pop groups and decided that he would try to create a rock band to rival the Beatles.
For this purpose, Kopp had set up a company called Orbit, located in the very prestigious Southern Cross Hotel complex. Also recruited for this venture was legendary Melbourne recording and media consultant, the late Bob King Crawford, who would write the songs for this band. The late Buff Parry, a wealthy businessman who owned a bus company in New Guinea, was the financial backer of the enterprise.
Charlie was tasked to find musicians for this proposed supergroup, so he invited me as the lead guitarist from the Untouchables to join and recruited rhythm guitarist Kevin Thomas and drummer Malcolm McPhee. The band then started rehearsing at television Channel Seven's Artransa studios in St Kilda, preparing to record the first of many hoped-for hit songs and perform at many hoped-for sellout concerts.
Michael Kopp decided that this Aussie supergroup had to be different, so in a flash of utter stupidity, he devised probably the silliest gimmick of them all. The band members would claim to come from another planet, have preposterous sounding alien names and their identities would literally remain a complete mystery. With his usual flair for the dramatic, Kopp predictably named the band The Mystrys.
My contrived alien name was Kuff (don't say it backwards) and the other band members had equally silly names and not only that, we pretended that we had an invisible fifth member. We mostly wore snappy suits in the style of that era and even worse, we wore green velvet hoods with only eye and mouth holes. Apart from being extremely uncomfortable, these hoods totally negated any chance of rock fans being attracted by the looks of the band members, which was the most important factor for anybody wishing to achieve pop stardom.
At the famed Bill Armstrong studios for Michael Kopp's own Orbit Records label and then the Leedon label, The Mystrys recorded their one and only hit song called Witch Girl and on the flip side, a slow ballad called Land Of The Green Sun, the place from where The Mystrys purportedly came. Amazingly, Witch Girl received excellent reviews, was played constantly by all the pop radio stations and thus rode up the hit parade charts. There were over twenty further songs to be recorded, but unfortunately this was not to happen.
The Mystrys appeared on a number of television shows such as Kommotion and the highest rating Go Show, where the band was actually billed second to Normie Rowe, who was then the reigning King Of Pop. The Mystrys also performed in most of the major rock venues, then embarked on an extensive country tour, supported by an all-girl band called The Kontacts, whose own gimmick was to have a male lead singer, Nic Gazzana, whose stage name was Tony Satan. Until the unexpected end, the tour was a success, with The Mystrys performing to capacity crowds in many regional centres and even travelling to the remote opal mining town of Andamooka for a surprise show.
Although The Mystrys always received excellent reviews for their television and live performances, the concept of a rock band with bagged heads tended to dampen the ardour of the millions of young girl rock fans, who were more interested in handsome pop stars than a group of guys who looked as if they were about to rob a bank. In fact on more than one occasion, the police were called by people who had seen The Mystrys in transit, but who had not been worldly enough to realise that they were in the presence of the latest rock and roll sensations, not a gang of crooks.
Although Mystrys drummer Malcolm McPhee was a phenomenally talented musician for that era, he suffered from a number of personal problems, including alcoholism and suspected drug use. Because of this, he became notoriously unreliable, arriving late for rehearsals or not even showing up at all on occasions. This was a very frustrating and untenable situation for the other members of the band.
So a decision was taken by the other Mystrys and management to fire him. After Witch Girl was recorded, an extensive search and auditioning process was undertaken to find a new drummer. Excellent Melbourne musician John Lake was ultimately recruited and he stayed with the band until The Mystrys broke up.
Unfortunately, The Mystrys were the victims of a real crook in the form of promoter and manager Michael Kopp, who was apparently known to police under many aliases. Unbeknown to The Mystrys and the Kontacts, Kopp had set up Orbit literally with $10 in the bank, then proceeded to pay for most of the tour expenses with rubber cheques.
On the final leg of the tour in Adelaide, Kopp and his sidekick Gerry Valek suddenly vanished, hotly pursued by irate hoteliers, restaurateurs and Federal Police. At that point, we decided that this was as good a time as any to split the group, as there did not seem to be much of a future for a band that was a complete mystery to its targeted fan base.
The saddest aspect of the whole saga was that all the members of The Mystrys were excellent musicians, technically and artistically superior to many of the superstars of the rock scene at the time. In hindsight, under different circumstances and without the silly hoods, The Mystrys could have achieved great success on the Australian pop scene.
Our one record, Witch Girl, has been rated very highly by music historians and collectors, when compared with most of the smash hits of that era and it is featured on a number of CD compilations, such as 'Of Hopes And Dreams And Tombstones' and 'So You Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star.' Not only that, the song is often played on many radio stations around the world to this day and the original vinyl records on the Orbit and Leedon labels are much sought-after by collectors.
So now after over five decades, one of the biggest secrets of the Australian music industry has finally been revealed. The Mystrys are a mystery no more. Those who seek more information about The Mystrys are welcome to contact me.