Little River Banned: Aussie fans blocked for being mean

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.  for GENERAL NEWS.  photo by JOE CASTRO.  THE AGE.  MELBOURNE.  Photo of members of the Australian band "The Little River Band" BEEB birtles, Glenn Shorrock, Graehame Goble, and manager Glenn Wheatley, outside the Federal Courts this afternoon.  They were there to stop the band's name being used overseas.
jpc020612.003.002 . for GENERAL NEWS. photo by JOE CASTRO. THE AGE. MELBOURNE. Photo of members of the Australian band "The Little River Band" BEEB birtles, Glenn Shorrock, Graehame Goble, and manager Glenn Wheatley, outside the Federal Courts this afternoon. They were there to stop the band's name being used overseas.

Australian fans of one of the country's most successful musical exports have been blocked from much of the band's website in the latest twist in a long-running dispute between the original members of Little River Band and the current American-based incarnation.

In the latest exchange of fire, anyone with an Australian IP address attempting to visit littleriverband.com has been blocked from much of the site. No gear, tour news, albums, band bios (or soup) for you.

Instead, Australian visitors get a denial-of-service message: "Due to continued attempts from your territory to infect our website with malware and viruses, we have chosen to deny access to anyone from this area at this time."

The real reason, claims Beeb Birtles, one of the founding members of Little River Band in Melbourne in 1975, is that the "new" band is simply sick of being criticised by fans of the original line-up.

"I guess they've had their feelings hurt so much that they don't want to hear from any Little River Band fans in Australia," he says. "It's bizarre."

(Access to some parts of the site has now been restored, though Australian users were at time of writing still barred from the "friends" pages, and could not make contact with the band via the site.)

The long-running battle over all things LRB dates back to 1997, when guitarist Stephen Housden, who joined the band in 1981, bought out the last remaining original member, drummer Derek Pellici. Housden continued touring as Little River Band, with a line-up comprised of session musicians, until retiring in 2007. Wayne Nelson - who joined the band in 1980, left in 1992, and later rejoined - is now the lead singer, though Housden still owns the name.

Things came to a head in 2002, when the original members planned a reunion tour as The Original Little River Band. Housden sued, and a judge in Melbourne found in his favour. The failed court bid cost Birtles, singer Glenn Shorrock and guitarist and chief songwriter Graeham Goble $330,000 in legal fees, says Birtles, who has just released a memoir, Every Day of My Life. "That really did hurt."

Though he left the band in 1983, Birtles insists he never assigned his stake in it to anyone else. In his book, he writes, "I still have that release form today without my signature on it."

Little River Band, one of the first Australian groups to achieve significant chart success in the US, was constantly evolving, but fans tend to think of the line-up circa 1978-80 that produced hits such as Lady, Reminiscing and Lonesome Loser as the "classic" version. Though the Housden iteration has continued to record new material, it has had none of the commercial success of the original group.

One recent release consisted of reworkings of the hits from the band's golden era almost 30 years earlier. "That to me is the comedy album," says Birtles. "They re-arranged all the songs and it's bloody awful. They're nothing more than a tribute band."

The hostilities flow in both directions, though.

Two years ago, the Nelson-led line-up was booked to play Lady and Reminiscing, two of LRB's biggest US hits, on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon to mark their 40th anniversary. Shorrock was furious, and contacted the show's producers to point out the absence of anyone from the original line-up. When he didn't hear back, the original members contacted their publisher and refused to grant a "synchronisation licence", which is needed to broadcast a music performance on film or TV.

They could in theory have played some of their original songs but, says Birtles with a chuckle, "they don't have any hits of their own".

There was one ceasefire between the warring parties in 2004, when LRB was inducted into ARIA's hall of fame. In his book, Birtles writes that Housden "agreed to issue a 24-hour license to the original members, allowing them to perform one song at the awards and use the name Little River Band".

For the most part, Birtles says he can laugh about it all now. He has lived in Nashville for 23 years, working as a songwriter and producer. He has a nice life.

He'd be up for one final reunion tour, but he admits he can't see it happening.

"Without the name we can't do anything," he explains. "Over here, because of our previous careers in other bands, we're kind of household names. But in America all people know is Little River Band. We were one of those faceless '70s bands - and so without the name nobody will book us."

Beeb Birtles' memoir Every Day of My Life is out now through Brolga Publishing.

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This story Little River Banned: Aussie fans blocked for being mean first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.