Mental As Anything Debut Album Turns 40
BY SEAN O'BRIEN
In November 1979 Australian band Mental As Anything released their debut album 'Get Wet' to an enthusiastic reception.
Forming Mental As Anything
With their mix of surreal humour, eccentric personalities, wild live gigs and great songs, nothing like the Mentals had been seen before and Australia embraced the band.
Get Wet peaked at No. 19 on the Australian album chart, and the first single from the album, 'The Nips Are Getting Bigger', a cautionary tale about drinking, reached No. 16 on the singles chart. Guitarist with the band, Reg Mombassa, was 28 at the time and still fresh out of art school, where he had met his fellow band members.
In the first clip below from his NFSA oral history interview with Iain Shedden, Reg recalls the early years of the band: anarchic party gigs and benefits at Redfern’s Settlement; residencies at iconic Sydney venues like Oxford Street’s Unicorn Hotel (where they famously played on the pool table); and playing at the punky Civic Hotel and the suburban Chatswood Charles (see Gallery for poster). It was a vibrant period for music in Sydney.
Also below is a clip of the band performing two songs live at Hearts in 1979, 'Business and Pleasure' and 'The Nips Are Getting Bigger'.
What's in a name?
All the members of the Mentals had odd pseudonyms, mostly invented by Reg, which 40 years later they’re still stuck with. Fortunately for Reg (real name Christopher O'Doherty) his original moniker, Dorky Bladder, was swiftly dropped. In this clip Reg recalls the stories behind the names:
Mental As Anything: Art, Posters and Record Sleeves
When Mental As Anything started in 1976, free beer was the extent of their ambition. However, in 1978 friends Cameron Allan and Martin Fabinyi were starting a new independent music label, Regular Records, and they were keen to sign the Mentals as the first act.
In this clip, Regular Records co-founder Martin Fabinyi recalls first seeing the Mentals play, signing them to his label, releasing the first Mentals single – a 'triple-A side', recording and releasing their first music, and gaining national attention for the band:
Side Gig: Visual Art
Like the other band members, including younger brother Peter O’Doherty, Reg was a practising artist. He had already had a one-man show at the Watters Gallery in Darlinghurst prior to forming the Mentals and he continued with his art while in the band. In the 1990s, Reg became part of the Mambo fashion stable, creating iconic characters such as 'Australian Jesus' (see Gallery above for artwork). In this clip Reg talks about his busy life as an artist:
A Mental Legacy
The classic Mental As Anything line-up went on to release eight more albums, including Espresso Bongo (1980), Cats & Dogs (1981), Creatures of Leisure (1983) and Fundamental As Anything (1985). The band continued, led by original member Greedy Smith, who sadly passed away in December 2019. In 1999 Reg and younger brother Peter retired from the group to focus on their art and the band Dog Trumpet. In this clip, Reg considers the Mental As Anything legacy:
The NFSA holds an extensive collection of Mental As Anything items donated by the band and Regular Records, including the master tapes of Get Wet and many more albums, live recordings, photographs, posters and original vinyl albums and singles.