The four middle-aged men are facing each other in a rough circle in the recording studio, each wearing a big grin and the broad experience of an adventurous musical life, as they rehearse their songs.
They are collectively known as Heroes.
"You know how the ending goes?" lead vocalist and guitarist Pete de Jong asks his bandmates, as they prepare to play through Tomahawk Kid.
What doesn't need checking with this high-tensile guitar rock band is when the legend surrounding Heroes began.
September 19, 1979. The night of the Star Hotel riot.
Heroes were playing in the pub on its closing night, when the farewell to an iconic inner-city watering hole exploded into mayhem on the streets and headlines around the world.
"For better or for worse, that Star riot, it's just been seminal in our career," says de Jong. "Love it or lump it, and it was mostly 'love it', because we've been trading on it for 40 years. There are really two parts to our career as a band. BS and AS. 'Before Star' and 'After Star'."
Before that night, Heroes were already a major drawcard in pubs and clubs around Newcastle. The band was the creation of de Jong, guitarist Mark Tinson, bass player Jim Porteus and drummer Phil Screen. Pete de Jong's band mates had already made it onto the national stage with another Newcastle outfit, Rabbit.
Heroes were determined to make ears prick up with infectious pop/rock songs delivered at high-energy concerts. They were part of the rising wave of pub rock, as bands made their mark in hotels in Newcastle, and up and down the coast.
"We really had the best of it," says de Jong. "We were working six nights a week and Saturday afternoons at one point. There were heaps of gigs, we got lots of playing in."
"If you came from Newcastle you were second to anything out of Sydney," recalls Phil Screen. "It didn't matter whether you were better. You were always the underdog regardless. Which is why everybody up here played harder than anybody in Sydney."
Yet after September 19, 1979, the attention of a nation was on not just Newcastle but Heroes. To many, the quartet had performed the soundtrack to a riot, particularly with its song, The Star and The Slaughter.
While it was written a year before the riot, the lyrics seemed prescient: Well, I want action! And I want fighting in the streets.
As calm returned to Newcastle's streets, a whirlwind whipped around Heroes because of the riot. Record companies came knocking, including arguably Australia's greatest songwriting pair, Harry Vanda and George Young, from the Alberts label, which had in its stable AC/DC and The Angels.
"Really, without that, we wouldn't have got the record contract with Alberts," says Mark Tinson. "Get to work with Vanda and Young, two of our idols. The whole thing was worth it, just for that probably!"
Heroes recorded their debut album, with hit singles Baby's Had A Taste and The Star and The Slaughter, complete with sound bites from news reports about the riot. They toured relentlessly, including supporting AC/DC in Melbourne on the same day they performed on television's rock king-making program, Countdown.
"That was exciting. Please, Countdown!," says de Jong.
But the excitement of stardom lost its lustre as life on the road wore the band down. By 1982, they felt like yesterday's heroes. The band ended. However, their friendships didn't. They continued working together in other bands. Tinson and Screen toured for a time with Swanee, and Porteus and de Jong have played for years in The Smarts.
Through the years Heroes reunited for concerts and to record a second album, So Far, which was released in 2015.
"At the time we were mapping out how the next few years might look, and we put a stake in the sand, which was September 19, 2019, that being the 40th anniversary of the Star," explains de Jong. "We also thought that would be a timely point to just wind things up. Of course, at the time, 2019 seemed a long way away!"
And so here the four men are, in the Impromptu Music studio at Tighes Hill, rehearsing for their last ever gig as Heroes on Thursday night, the 40th anniversary of the riot. But the sold-out show is being staged not at the reincarnated Star, but at Lizotte's at Lambton.
"One of the reasons we chose Lizotte's is our audience can sit down. They need to!," laughs Tinson. And they assure history won't be repeating. There will be no rioting.
"No, we'll clean up after ourselves," says Pete de Jong.
"And people rioting with walkers aren't as dangerous," adds Porteus. But the bassist is keenly aware what the show means to both the band and the audience. "Without doubt, that's why our gig sold out three months ago. We have an obligation to those people. We are so part of their wild youth. And that is what established us. We are part of their memory."
Supporting Heroes at the Lizotte's gig is Greg Bryce, whose band Meccalissa (later DV8) also played on that night at The Star.
"To get up and do a solo spot, it's a nice symmetry," says Bryce.
In their day, Bryce recalls, Heroes were huge: "They knew how to play rock and roll and what the audiences wanted. I took a lot from their success, what they did, and how they worked with Newcastle audiences."
As Heroes prepare for their final gig, the four are reflecting on what they did, the legacy they are leaving, and who they have in each other.
"We played as one, we were one," says Porteus. "We are still one."
"I can say, hand on heart, probably my best friends are in this band," says de Jong. "It gave me that. It gave me people who, you know, we'll be singing at each other's funerals."
All four burst into laughter as Screen chimes in, "Bags being last!"
- Click here to watch a new locally produced "Stories of Our Town" documentary on the Star Hotel riot.
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