The Crystal Set

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The Crystal Set
OriginSydney, New South Wales, Australia
GenresRock, indie rock
Years active1983 (1983)–1991 (1991)
LabelsRed Eye/Polydor
Associated acts
  • The Puppets
  • Hobgoblin Sextet
Past members

The Crystal Set were an Australian indie rock group formed in March 1983. By 1987 the line-up was Russell Kilbey (bass and lead vocals), Phillip Maher (guitar and vocals), Davey Ray Moor (keyboards and vocals) and Tim Seckhold (drums). In April 1988 Moor was replaced by Craig Hooper, who was replaced in turn by Luke Blackburn, in May 1989; the group issued two studio albums, From Now On (May 1987) and Almost Pure (April 1991), before disbanding later that year. Russell Kilbey is the younger brother of the Church's mainstay, Steve Kilbey.


The Crystal Set were formed in March 1983 in Sydney by Russell Kilbey on bass guitar and lead vocals, Phillip Maher on lead guitar and vocals, Davey Ray Moor on keyboards and backing vocals, and Charles Ratcliffe on drums;[1][2] the four members had all attended Copland College in Canberra; Kilbey and Ratcliffe had also been in a local garage band, the Puppets.[3] After "four months of rehearsing, Crystal Set began to play all over Sydney, concentrating its performances in the 'inner-city circuit' and gradually branching out to country areas such as Bathurst and Newcastle."[3] Australian musicologist, Ian McFarlane, felt that they "emerged with a refined, atmospheric brand of psychedelia and rock that drew influences from UK artists as diverse as The Cure and Brian Eno."[1]

The Crystal Set released their first single, "A Drop in the Ocean", independently on their own Set label in December 1984,[1][2] it was "designed, packaged and distributed by the band members themselves."[3] Moor declared, "We want to gain some independence just like Midnight Oil, before we look for an agent."[3] By May 1985 they signed to Red Eye Records, which issued their second single, "Benefit of the Doubt".[1] Ratcliffe had left and they used studio drummers, Mark Evans on the B-side, "Don't Be Surprised", and John Lloyd on the A-side;[1] that single had been co-produced by Kilbey's older brother, Steve Kilbey (of the Church), and Guy Gray.[2] The first single was re-issued by Red Eye Records in November.[1][2] By that time they "had built up a strong cult following around Sydney."[1]

Tim Seckhold took up the drums in time for the Crystal Set's next two singles, "Wholly Holy" (April 1987) and "Who Needs Who Now?" (December), and their debut album, From Now On (May).[1][2] It was produced by Steve Kilbey;[2] the singles were moderate indie hits via airplay on youth radio station, JJJ. The Canberra Times' reviewer critiqued "Who Needs Who Now" and observed that the group "are numbing live, but in the small doses provided by singles they are acceptable. This track is quite likeable and extremely polished for an independent record... Nice production and street credibility, the North Shore girls should love it."[4]

Moor left in April 1988 and Craig Hooper (ex-the Reels) on keyboards and guitar joined Kilbey, Maher and Seckhold to release a six-track extended play, Cluster, in July, which was produced by Hooper.[1][2] One side featured songs recorded with Moor while the other side featured compositions with Hooper; the group disbanded at the end of that year.

When the Crystal Set reconvened in May 1989 Kilbey assumed guitar duties and vocals; together with Maher and Seckold they were joined by Luke Blackburn on bass guitar and backing vocals;[2] when Red Eye Records signed a distribution deal with Polydor Australia in 1990, the group's second album, Almost Pure (April 1991), signalled their transition from an independent act to one associated with a major label. It found moderate national success with the singles, "She Spits out Stars" (December 1990) and "Thrive" (June 1991), their Red Eye/Polydor label mates were the Cruel Sea, the Clouds, Steve Kilbey, Jack Frost (Steve Kilbey and Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens), the Bhagavad Guitars, Curious (Yellow) and the Beasts of Bourbon.

In 1991 Kilbey and Maher relocated to Melbourne and recruited Darren "Fud" Ryan on drums and Paul Agar on bass and backing vocals as new members. To promote Almost Pure the band toured supporting United Kingdom band, the Wonder Stuff, as well as headlining their own shows in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane; however the Crystal Set disbanded at the end of 1991.

Russell Kilbey collaborated with David Thrussell from techno-industrial outfit Snog in Sex Industrie; the duo released a cover version of the AC/DC song, "Jailbreak". The Crystal Set compilation album, Umbrella, originally issued in 1989, was re-released on CD with an extra track, "Sea of Misconception".[2] Russell and Steve Kilbey worked as a duo, Gilt Trip, which issued two albums Gilt Trip (1997) and Egyptian Register. Russell had also collaborated with another brother, John Kilbey (ex-the Bhagavad Guitars), as Warp Factor 9, which released an album, 5 Days in a Photon Belt (1993).[2]




  • From Now On (Red Eye Records, 1987)
  • Cluster (mini-album, Red Eye Records, 1988)
  • Umbrella (compilation, Red Eye Records/Polydor Records, 1990)
  • Almost Pure (Red Eye Records/Polydor Records, 1991)


  • "A Drop in the Ocean" (Set, December 1984)


  • McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Whammo Homepage". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 5 April 2004. Retrieved 13 February 2017. Note: Archived [on-line] copy has limited functionality.
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i McFarlane, 'The Crystal Set' entry. Archived from the original on 9 August 2004. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Crystal Set at Australian Rock Database:
    • Crystal Set (1984–88, 1989–91): Holmgren, Magnus. "Crystal Set". Australian Rock Database (Magnus Holmgren). Archived from the original on 25 August 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
    • Craig Hooper (1987–88): Holmgren, Magnus; Hooper, Craig. "Craig Hooper". Australian Rock Database (Magnus Holmgren). Archived from the original on 28 September 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
    • Russell Kilbey (1984–88, 1989–91): Holmgren, Magnus. "Russell Kilbey". Australian Rock Database (Magnus Holmgren). Archived from the original on 20 November 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Lovett, Simone (19 December 1984). "Timespan: Crystal Set Keen to Impress at Homecoming". The Canberra Times. 59 (17, 979). p. 29. Retrieved 13 February 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ "Round and Round". The Canberra Times. 62 (19, 128). 18 February 1988. p. 32. Retrieved 13 February 2017 – via National Library of Australia.