Fab 80s funk, soul, jazz-rock, dance act BACHELORS FROM PRAGUE return after a 25 year hiatus to play two special September shows at the Night Cat in Fitzroy. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with frontman HENRY MAAS to get the lowdown.
There was a time in the mid 80s when on any given night in Melbourne, you could witness legendary Australian rock bands like The Angels, Rose Tattoo, The Models, Midnight Oil, or Divinyls, to name a few. However if you weren’t so much into mainstream rock ‘n’ roll or merely wanted a break from it, in a small pocket of Fitzroy you could experience something a little more exotic, an emerging European-style cafe culture with a soundtrack provided by an 8-piece band called Bachelors From Prague. Led by enigmatic frontman Henry Maas, the Bachelors played an irresistible mix of 50s jazz and R&B, funk and salsa and organically developed a large and loyal following. It didn’t hurt that the ABC comedy show The Big Gig featured Bachelors From Prague on a regular basis too and regular live work was ensured as Maas was the owner of the clubs that the band played in.
Maas’ childhood was spent immersed in theatre. His parents owned the Maas Cabaret in St.Kilda, so it was no surprise that Henry followed their path, firstly becoming a performer in touring comedy act The Busby Berkeleys, then later as a club owner. He opened The Black Cat venue in 1982 and started the Bachelors From Prague a few years later. “I was really into jazz in a big way way,” Henry told me. “But I also leaned towards R ‘n’ B and blues and that gave it that combination, the kind of music we played. I loved James Brown, he was incredible. I went to see him a few times. Miles Davis and John Coltrane were also huge for me.”
Bachelors from Prague began life as a trio featuring Maas, his Black Cat business partner Tony Edwards on drums and Andrew Philipp on saxophone. “It started out as the Buddy Lovestein Big Band, which was actually just a trio but developed from that,” said Henry. “We’d include a few members and more came in and eventually turned into the Bachelors From Prague.”
As mentioned earlier, at the time the Melbourne pub scene was rife with quality rock ‘n’ roll bands but the Bachelors and their followers seemed oblivious to it. “We just did our own thing, “said Henry on reflection. “We didn’t really mix with the others in the music community because we used to run our own gigs. We printed the posters and did it all ourselves. It was all in-house.”
Until earlier this year, it had been 25 years since the Bachelors From Prague had played together. What brought the band back together was the 30th anniversary of iconic Brunswick Street cafe Marios, which was run by Maas’ friends, Mario Maccarone and Mario de Pasquale. To mark the anniversary, a huge celebration night was held at the Fitzroy Town Hall and Maccarone decided to get the Bachelors back together for the night to do a couple of songs. It was such a hit that the band is now playing two complete shows in early September at the newly re-opened Night Cat in Fitzroy.
“Mario managed to get all of the Bachelors back together to do two songs'” says Henry of the Mario’s 30th birthday night. “We all live all over Australia at the moment. He made it possible to get the band together. It was great. Everyone showed up for rehearsal shortly before the show and 25 years went out the window, although I have forgotten all the lyrics. So we did it and it went over really well, so we thought, OK we’ll give it a shot, let’s do a show.”
Maas no longer owns the Night Cat or Black Cat cafes but there is still a band connection as their percussionist Justin has taken ownership of the Night Cat. Tickets sold so fast to the first announced Night Cat gig that a second show has been added. Not only that, Maas suggests that the shows will be recorded, so this may not be the end of it yet. “Who knows?” says Henry. “Depends on how this goes and the enthusiasm between everybody. We’ll see how it goes.”
Bachelors From Prague Facebook page
A few tickets are still available for the September 3rd Night Cat show here: