I’ve written quite a lot recently about Charlie Tolnay’s influence over the many bands and scenes he has floated in and out of over the years. What I never anticipated was that he would soon pass away. For a man who has had his fair share of the rock ‘n’ roll debauchery, he was in relatively good health. However, sadly, a brief illness has unexpectedly taken his life. He wasn’t that old -early to mid-fifties at a guess- and despite the image and his infamously menacing stance on stage, he was a damn good bloke. He will be missed.
What I’ve never written about is Charlie the person. I’m not claiming to have known the man -I’ve only met him twice for a couple of brief chats- but what I do know is this: he loved his cats. He and his brother Michael would constantly bring home stray cats from the streets of their Adelaide suburb to look after the best they could. He was damn friendly and at times damn funny. Talk to anybody that knew the great man and they’ll tell you, Charlie had a canny wit, a great sense of humour and if in the mood could talk the ear off a rabbit. His brother was his best mate. Charlie and Michael are half-brothers born to Hungarian immigrants who made the shift to Australia post-WWII in search of a better life. Since teenagers, the boys have played in bands together, forming the legendary Grong Grong in the early 1980s. They played together, toured together, lived together in later life and went through some hellish times mixed with some hilarious times. Man, I bet those two have some stories.
“I lay awake for two nights after seeing Grong Grong, wondering if I actually saw what I really saw.”
-Jello Biafra (lead singer Dead Kennedys)
That’s all I know about Charlie personally, but what I do know is this: his music, his brutal guitar onslaught, whilst abrasive and cutting, is exhilarating, influential and highly original. Artists from Jello Biafra (who Tolnay played with in the short-lived Tumor Circus) to Mark Arm to Tex Perkins have all sung their praises over Charlie’s music over the years and with good reason. Nothing more really needs to be said about this unique individual in Oz r ‘n’ r history, so let’s just let his music do the talking.
GRONG GRONG (1982-1984, 2009-2017)
KING SNAKE ROOST (1985-1990)
TUMOR CIRCUS (1991)
*If you’d like to read more about the great Charlie Tolnay and the early days of the Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne punk/experimental scenes, check out the 50Thirdand3rd series Sniffing Dirty Laundry.