The Mexican Spitfires were an Australian indie rock–indie pop band formed in 1986. The original lineup consisted of Price Conlan on drums, Stephen McCowage on lead guitar, Tim O'Reilly on bass and vocals, Michael Quinlan on rhythm guitar and vocals. O'Reilly, Quinlan and McCowage had all played in a psychedelic 1960s-styled indie pop band, Prince Vlad & the Gargoyle Impalers. They recorded two extended plays, Lupe Velez (1988) and Elephant (1990); however, they had disbanded late in 1989.
The Mexican Spitfires were an inner-city suburban band with a collection of songs about Sydney. They dealt with aspects of daily life, including: "Ivy Street" about a dilapidated street familiar to Sydney University students who to or from Redfern Station; "Sydney Town" on the moral tightrope found between the city and Kings Cross down Park Street; "Town Hall Steps" about a meeting out front of Sydney Town Hall; "Until" on spending time in Katoomba in the nearby Blue Mountains; and "Rookwood" talks about Rookwood Cemetery. Similar lyrical territory was farmed by contemporaries, Paul Kelly & the Coloured Girls and John Kennedy's Love Gone Wrong.
With three songwriters in O'Reilly, Quinlan and McCowage, the band had no shortage of original material and right from the first performance, set lists consisted predominantly of original material. Harking back to their earlier experiences in Prince Vlad & the Gargoyle Impalers, the band displayed a 1960s pop sensibility with strong harmonies from Quinlan and O'Reilly and covered songs such as the Beatles' "If I Needed Someone" and the Monkees' "Mary Mary".
In July 1986 the Mexican Spitfires played their first gig to an audience at the Lismore Hotel, Sydney. They were signed to Red Eye Records. The band's debut six-track 12-inch extended play, Lupe Velez, was released in 1988. The EP was produced by Jon Schofield of the Coloured Girls, engineered by Phil Punch, and featured a keyboard appearance by Russell Parkhouse (ex-The Riptides). The EP appeared on the independent charts, moving into the top 5 in Sydney and received significant airplay on 2JJ (now 2JJJ), particularly for the "Sydney Town", "You Can't Run" and "Town Hall Steps". Lupe Velez received favourable reviews in English music magazine, NME, and in the Australian music press.
According to London-based rock music critic, Andrew Mueller, as quoted in Who's Who of Australian Rock the Mexican Spitfires produced
"Impressive songs in the Kelly/Kennedy vein with a slightly English sounding pop touch."
The EP was favourably received in Germany and Italy, where "You Can't Run" gained substantial airplay on Radio Marte, Radio Luna and Radio Delfino in Catania. The music video for "Sydney Town" made its debut on SBS's world music show, Rock Around The World, before being shown on ABC's, Rage. The band also performed "Ivy Street" on the Network TEN programme, Ridgey Didge.
After their debut, the Mexican Spitfires returned to the Electric Avenue Studio of Phil Punch to record their second six-track 12-inch EP, Elephant, during 1989 and 1990. That EP has not been released in any format, despite interest from indie pop labels such as Catania's No Tyme Records.
Only two tracks, "Sydney Town" and "You Can't Run (Forever)", have ever been released on a CD as of the date of this entry. The two tracks are featured on the compilation of Red Eye Records various artists, Asides and Besides:The First Five Years, whilst "Sydney Town" is featured on the Sony Music double CD compilation Somewhere in Sydney: 30 Songs from the Harbour City, which was released in 2000 to coincide with the Sydney Olympic Games.
During the mid to late 1980s, the Mexican Spitfires played many local pubs: the Hopetoun, the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown (aka the "Sando"), Paddington Green, and Harold Park. In 1988 they toured Melbourne with other Red Eye acts the Crystal Set, Curious (Yellow) and the Bhagavad Guitars. The band also played with other bands such as: the Triffids, Roaring Jack, Penguins on Safari (later the Whitlams), the Wet Taxis, the Last Metro, the Upbeat, Billy Baxter and the Hollowmen and John Kennedy of John Kennedy's Love Gone Wrong.
Following McCowage's departure in 1989, DJ Pantless joined the band on lead guitar. That line-up supported the Proclaimers on the Sydney and Canberra leg of their 1989 tour supplemented by Dominic Killalea of the Upbeat filling in on drums. O'Reilly has since gone on to perform with the Sydney gospel music choir, the Elementals, and recorded Live at the Basement.
Whilst the Mexican Spitfires have not played live as a band since early 1989, their music has been played on radio stations like 88.1 FM WMBR Cambridge, Massachusetts, and fans of their music can be found in Australia, Japan, Germany, Italy and the United States.Lupe Velez (12" EP, 1988)
featuring the songs:
"Sydney Town", "You Can't Run (Forever)", and "Until", written by Quinlan.
"Town Hall Steps" and "Ivy Street", written by O'Reilly.
"Rookwood", written by McCowage.
Elephant (12" EP, 1990, unreleased)
featuring the songs:
"Roy", "Fallen Down", "Long Time", written by Quinlan.
"She", "Desperate Ways", "Just Like Any Man", written by O'Reilly.
Somewhere in Sydney: 30 songs from the Harbour City (Compilation CD, 2000) features "Sydney Town".
Asides & Besides: The First Five Years (Compilation CD, n.d.) features Sydney Town and You Can't Run(Forever)