"Our main interests include bowels, schedule 8 riffs, pop hooks and bowels."
Article by Shane Hilton
Photos by Bill Golding
Trying to find the right words to begin this article are beyond my humble talents.
I have no way of being able to show the respect, reverence, and appreciation I hold towards the group of people I’m writing about here.
I was raised by nurses.
If you thought that being raised by wolves sounds like a daunting experience you would never have survived a childhood raised by someone still referred to as “Matron”
Nurses are infinitely caring people.
Every process they go through is about achieving the absolute best result.
They’re incredible human beings.
They also scare the shit out of me because simply by doing their job, they make me feel so remarkably inadequate.
In the last seven months the world has turned to their profession for compassion, care and leadership as we take on one of the most challenging tasks faced in living memory.
It’s a role they’ve always done though.
If you look through the history of modern medicine the one role that has never changed, never wavered, never been about anything except the betterment of every person that comes under their care… It’s the nurse.
They’re the ones that are there for you at the beginning.
They’re the ones with you at the end.
They go above, beyond, and everywhere in between to make a life better or to ease the departure.
They comfort wives, husbands, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers.
They celebrate with them.
They hold the hand of those who have no one left.
They safeguard the unwanted and discarded.
They become the link to a world that throws away and neglects the elderly.
It’s a job you won’t recognise as being so undervalued or so fucking important until you find yourself under the charge of their selfless ideals and tireless energy.
And when a group of those nurses just happen to be a punk rock band?
It’s best to remember the words of the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale “Remember my name. You’ll be screaming it later.”
Würst Nürse are everything you could ever want in a punk band.
Politically sharp, challengers of norms and a gallows sense of humour wrapped up in three dirty feedback laden chords. A rawness that soothes the inner need to stick two fingers in the air and tell the world to go fuck itself.
The level of intelligence buried in the seething mocking contempt for the injustices, challenges and daily bullshit that their profession entails is so eloquently laid out you barely recognise the power of the musical and lyrical venom that spews forth from their songs.
Würst Nürse are dangerous.
Which makes complete sense when you take a closer look at the conditions they work under in the real world.
Since the spread of COVID-19 around the globe, the light has been very much focused on our health care systems and particularly our health care workers, which are the last line of defence against a pandemic that has completely changed the way every single one of us live our life.
The images of nursing staff with deep welts, bruises and torn skin after 12 hour shift, upon 12 hour shift are amongst some of the most confronting and instantly relatable images of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also probably the closest any of us will ever come to seeing the physical effects this invisible pathogen has unleashed on the world as well.
Surgical masks, particulate filter respirators, gloves, goggles, glasses, face shields, gowns and aprons are just some of the daily rituals health professionals, particularly nursing staff who have more one on one contact with patients than any other member of a hospital’s staff, have had to embrace in order to protect themselves from an indiscriminate infection.
The fact is, as drummer Abbie Laderman explains, all that PPE is something that simply comes with the territory.
“We acknowledge how confronting these images must be for the public” she tells us “the truth is we love our PPE as it is our only protection from COVID-19. As nurses it is not new to us, as limiting our exposure to all types of bacterial and viral disease is part of the job. However, the continuous wear (up to 12 hours) that is required due to COVID-19, is causing physical pain and discomfort to nurses. Most of the time we are too busy to think about it and just need to get on with the job.”
“A real tragedy is that we have lost the ability to connect and reassure our elderly and confused patients with a smile, which is a heartbreaking side effect of the PPE.”
Currently the members of the world’s first nurse-punk band work in varying fields of our health care networks.
Vocalist/Guitarist Steph is working within mental health.
Lead Guitarist Anna Stein and Rhythm Guitarist Nikki are employed in Intensive Care Units.
Bassist Morgan is a nurse in Oncology/Haematology.
Abbie is working on a COVID ward.
It’s with little wonder the five piece get the everyday pressure out through belting out punk rock music. The fact that they all happen to be in the nursing profession, as well as musicians, is remarkably just a matter of coincidence that led to the formation of the band.
“Many people assume we all met through nursing” explains Abbie “Actually, we all met through the Melbourne music scene. We are all long-time gig goers and pub rats, drawn together through late-night nurse-chat about bodily fluids and the need to unpack the weight of our job at the bar. Naturally, this developed into a late-night joke idea of starting a nürse band”
What may have started as a “late-night joke” quickly turned into a slew of highly infectious 90’s tinged, burning Melbourne punk rock that’s just as tough as the band playing it.
Every song they play is incessantly catchy. It’s the type of feel good music that you simply can’t help getting stuck in their lyrical trap. You can even dance to it.
The most obvious thing about the music Würst Nürse create is the underlying thematic presence of their profession.
On their first EP Hot, Hot, Hot (named after the first three songs on the release; Hot Doctor, Hot Brown Rain & Hot Surgeon) the world of nursing snarls out of the speakers in a brazen mix of humour, culturally potent observation and flat out anger.
If punk rock is meant to be confronting you won’t find a band more confronting than Würst Nürse. Lyrics that tell you “If you cut my pay, I’ll cut your oxygen” from the fourth track on the Hot, Hot, Hot EP, Dedication Doesn’t Pay The Rent (a homage to the 1986 Victorian Nurses Strike) have enough clout to make it very clear this is a band that takes no prisoners.
“Sometimes it’s a blessing to have so much lyrical content to work with” Anna says “but then a curse to make them into songs that tell a good story. We try not to force anything out and just try to make the music that comes easily and naturally”
Of course, the harsh realities of their day jobs have a massive effect on the complexities of song writing. While it might seem like that there are no taboos when it comes to subject matter the band work in environments that unfortunately see some of the darkest examples of life and death.
“There are often events in nursing that are never spoken of again, let alone put in a song” Morgan points out.
The 1986 Victorian Nurse Strike was a culmination of decades of wage cuts, poor working conditions and high patient loads in hospitals, not only in Victoria, but around Australia. After repeated discussions with the Cain government reached a deadlock, nurses and their unions voted to strike.
Leaving a skeleton staff on all wards, except for Emergency and Intensive Care, Victorian nurses picketed hospitals, organised mass protests and campaigned for better pay and conditions for over 50 days. The actions of those nurses have left a lasting impression, not just on the trade union movement in Australia, but also in the social fabric of modern-day Australia.
It was also a defining moment of feminism in Australia.
The predominantly female-led strike took on a system ran almost entirely by men and won.
They’re causes that the members of Würst Nürse have happily inherited and continue to lead in 2020.
“It’s pretty cool to think that the front line of this pandemic is predominantly female-led. Usually you’d associate a ‘front line’ with a male dominated military front line, but there’s definitely something to be said about the level of female empathy and care giving that’s needed in circumstances such as this” says Morgan. “Sure, playing music is cool, but showing empathy is probably the most badass thing you can ever do, I don’t care what you say.”
The conscience of the band is a constant presence, not just in their working and musical lives, but also in the actions of the band members giving back to the community.
Guitarist, Anna is the camp’s nurse for the Melbourne Girls Rock, which holds holiday based musical programs for young people. It’s a program that is having massive impacts on the musical landscape around the world. Girls Rock continues the example set by those nurses who participated in the 1986 strike by continuing to not just campaign for equality, but by putting avenues and activities in place for young women, people of colour, non-binary and trans people.
“Female, trans and gender diverse folk should know from a young age that learning music isn’t just for men” says Morgan. “I wish I didn’t waste so much of my youth only going to gigs of my dude friends and worshipping them like they were practising some sort of unobtainable craft. Girls Rock diminishes this perceived barrier and gives everyone a fair go - how cool!”
Bands, particularly punk bands, are something the band strongly believe anyone can be involved in.
“You can fuck up and no one cares” says Anna.
And being the world’s very first nurse-core band they’re hoping they’re not the only health professionals taking to the sticky carpets of the country.
“We encourage everyone who wants to start a band to DO IT” says Abbie “It will change your life. We’d love to share stages with The Hot Doctors, The Extraordinary Orderlies and Theatre Tech DJ’s. There ya go we’ve done the hard work for ya”
And it’s that exact attitude and willingness to throw themselves into the action that has seen Würst Nürse tour with and play alongside some of the worlds most loved bands and some of Australia’s most renowned festivals.
“We have been so lucky to play some seriously awesome shows over the years!” Abbie tell us “Sheilas Shakedown and Cherry Rock are standouts”
“The Damned Tour will go down as one of our fondest memories, it was like a gothic night terror come true, their shows were so KILLER they rocked us into heart block!”
Even the Cosmic Psychos, who have a sixth sense for managing to get up and coming bands such as the Amyl & the Sniffers, Dune Rats, the Spazzys, Private Function, Girl Germs, Bad//Dreems and High Tension amongst others to support them just before making their break in the wider music industry, saw the potential in the band.
“The Cosmic Psychos have taken the nurses on a few field trips, where we’ve played our dream stages” says Abbie “The Corner, Espy Gershwin Room and the Theatre Royal. I guess it’s always a good idea to have some medical professionals on tour!”
It’s something that, in my capacity as one of the owners of the Last Chance I’m acutely appreciative of after our 2018 Melbourne Music Week gig was derailed by an incident which saw Abbie come to the rescue in the most professional way possible.
“There was that one time that Vin from Hideous Sun Demon split his head open on a metal door frame right before a set at Last Chance! Lucky you good folk have a well-equipped first aid kit. The poor bugger ended up with staples in his head”
And while that was a disaster of a gig, 2020 has been catastrophic for the entire live music industry as it came to a grinding halt due to COVID-19. It has had a twofold effect on the members of Würst Nürse, who have not only seen their professional working lives take on an even more serious tone, but also seen the outlet provided by music become non-existent overnight.
“Like everyone else, not being able to do the things we normally do for fun, recreation, therapy is hard” Anna says “Going from work to home and back again with no chance to see your friends/let loose like we normally would definitely takes a toll. I think like everyone else, we just have to roll with it and hope if everyone does the right thing we will be back to some sort of normal life soon”
The question that a lot of people are wondering, especially when it comes to bands, is what exactly ‘normal life’ in live music will look like.
Würst Nürse are in a unique position to be able to give an insight into what gigs will look like in the future as the industry returns to hosting bands on stage again.
“Definitely masks, hand sanitiser and a shit tonne of Glen 20” says Anna “It's hard to believe we will ever go back to normal, not at least for a while. Hopefully, people are more appreciative of the venues that have supported a thriving scene for so long, and that both bands and audiences work with venues to help them adapt post lock down”
Post lock down will also see the quintet return to finish a job cut short by the pandemic.
“We’re sittin’ on some secrets” says Abbie “For real though, we had just started to demo our new songs when COVID-19 came and coughed on our parade. Due to our current working conditions we have been focused on supporting each other professionally and emotionally. We are good friends before we are band mates and it’s important, we allow each other the rest and self-care required at this time. Post virus, we'll be back to metaphorically wash our hands of this nonsense and cleanse our souls through the power of rock”
The question remains though, just how much will the seismic events of the last 7 months have on a band and their creative output that are dealing with it in a very up close & personal way?
“This challenging time is sure to spark some new ideas for songs but the truth is our process will be much the same” says Abbie “Our job has always been weird, gross, funny, heartbreaking and just WTF, and although these are unprecedented times, we’ve always drawn our creativity from the never-ending chaos of Melbourne’s public hospitals”
And with the second wave of the pandemic slowly making it’s way down to manageable numbers after months of lockdown in Victoria and a view to the future it’s worth asking just what all of us can do to get these selfless punk rockers back onto our stages.
“Nothing new, you’ve heard it all before” Abbie tell us “Wash ya hands or you’ll be hearing from our Union!”
The Last Chance and Rock & Roll Magazine would like to thank Steph, Anna, Nikki, Morgan and Abbie not just for their dedication during the pandemic, but also for being such big supporters of everything we’ve ever done.
We’d also like thank them for being one of our all-time favourite bands.
Each member sat down to answer our questions in what are difficult times for them.
These punk rock denizens of our hearts are currently working 12 hour shifts every day, yet they still gave up some of their much-needed personal time off to help us out.
And they did it with a smile and encouraging words to us.
They’re a beautiful group of human beings.
We ask that if you’ve read this far that you please go listen to them, see them when they’re allowed to play again and appreciate everything they do, because it’s some of the best shit you’re ever going to listen to.
We also ask that you annoy the absolute fuck out of the government to pay all our nurses and other health care workers appropriately for the job that they do.
It’s not just about COVID.
It’s about everything they do.
We’d be fucked without them.
Dedication Should Pay The Rent.
LISTEN TO WURST NURSE HERE
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