The British impact on Aussie music
© R. Furlan, 2012
The Swinging Sixties and British Musical DNA
The Swinging Sixties was a British cultural phenomenon – influencing fashion, dance, art and, most significantly, music. The sounds were vibrant, creative, compelling. This creative musical source emanated from a combination of the harmonies and lyrics of the Beatles, the guttural throb of the Rolling Stones and the Animals, the blues wail of the Yardbirds and the pop beat of the Pacemakers. At its peak, the Swinging Sixties British sound comprised a creative cacophony that surged in an unstoppable musical wave.
The impact of this British upsurge on Australian music was immediate and profound. It inspired many recent young British migrants in Australia to form their own bands and play vibrant music. While the music was imbued with a British beat, the singers and groups were often themselves literally imbued with a British heartbeat.
Young British migrants formed groups like The Bee Gees, the Phantoms, the Easybeats, the Loved Ones, the Purple Hearts, the Twilights, the Master’s Apprentices; the Aztecs, AC/DC and Cold Chisel, launching themselves like a tidal wave onto Australian and international music shores. British born singers like Frank Ifield, Olivia Newton-John, John Farnham, Jon English, Mike Brady, Billy Thorpe and Jimmy Barnes first emerged in Australia and many experienced international success. Collectively, these singers and groups defined Australian music.
While the Australian music scene did have an appreciation of American music, there were fewer adaptations of American musical style by Australian bands. Australia had no bands or songs that imitated the Byrds or the Doors. Most Australian bands comprised either British-born singers or were fundamentally influenced by the more powerfully creative elements of British music.
This led to British born singers and groups developing a musical style that defined Australian popular music. From the most popular Australian song (the Easybeats’ Friday on My Mind) to the most popular musical ‘anthems’ (Men at Work’s Down Under and Mike Brady’s Up There Cazaly) to the defining exposition of Australia’s most revered national song (Eric Bogles’ Waltzing Matilda, sung as a dirge), British born artists created the bedrock of Australian music.
Where did it all begin?
Skiffling to the Beat
It started with skiffle.
The music was basic, easy to play and, best of all, the instruments were cheap and accessible. These factors were critical in encouraging the formation of musical groups.
The original skiffle groups developed in Britain in the 1950s. A typical group had a core of three performers – one playing acoustic guitar; another playing a tea-chest bass and a third playing a household washboard. Later, drums and banjos were introduced, providing a more polished sound and backing beat.
The music was a contemporary derivation of folk, with a rhythmic beat, original lyrics and a singing guitarist. As skiffle evolved, it became known as beat music.
Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele were two of the best known skiffle singers of that period. The Glasgow-born Donegan’s musical roots were in jazz. Donegan’s signature hit, My Old Man’s A Dustman, was a typical skiffle tune, adapted from the much cruder and ruder Liverpudlian song, My Old Man’s A Fireman on the Elder-Dempster Line.
It’s been estimated that there were upwards of five thousand skiffle groups in Britain in the late 1950s. The Quarrymen, eventually to transform into the Beatles, were one such group, playing at the Cavern Club, the cellar venue in Liverpool’s Mathew St near Albert Dock, where they garnered an impressive local fan club.
Then came the Merseybeat explosion.
Scousers on the River
The Mersey River is Liverpool’s heartland, the journey’s end of Liverpool’s vibrant port. Sailors brought the latest American and European record releases to a city of eager kids who had just started to explore skiffle and beat music. This spurred a creative musical surge in the port city. Within a few years, skiffle had morphed into rhythm and blues and a unique sound was beginning to emerge – the Merseybeat.
Enhancing the beat sounds of their music, the Beatles popularised a songwriting technique based on their life experiences. Many of these songs were tinged with the rosy reflections of their Liverpool upbringing. Strawberry Fields, actually the location of a Salvation Army orphanage in Liverpool, was John Lennon’s ode to his Liverpool childhood. The B-side of this single, Penny Lane, was McCartney’s ode to his Liverpool childhood.
Memories of Liverpool also provided visual artistic inspiration. The collage album cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band depicted the features of Liverpool comedian Tommy Handley, the figure in a cloth cap next to Marilyn Monroe and Albert Stubbins, the legendary Liverpool footballer. Liverpool ‘mod’ fashion was as well known and as imitated as Carnaby St fashion. And the renowned Scouse wit and humour abounded. As John Lennon acknowledged “We came out of Liverpool and we reflected our background”. With the Beatles, however, Liverpool was a launching point.
By contrast, the upbeat bouncing music of Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer with the conspiratorial Do You want to know a secret? and the Searchers, with the jangling twin guitars of Needles and Pins and When you walk into the Room, made Liverpool a musical destination.
Gerard Marsden formed the Mars Bars in the early 1960s. He thought the chocolate company of the same name would see fit to sponsor the group but his music mustn’t have been to their taste as the company forced the band to change its name. Under its new incarnation, Gerry & the Pacemakers produced a steady output of high-energy, likeable pop songs with a particular Scouse flavour – I like It; Ferry Cross the Mersey– as well as signature sentimental songs like Don’t let the sun catch you crying and You’ll never walk alone. The iconic You’ll never walk alone (1963) was later adopted by the Liverpool FC as the club anthem.
Another Liverpudlian singer, Cilla Black (born Priscilla White) recorded her biggest hit with Anyone who had a heart in 1964, another booming Mersey sound single. The first song Black recorded, however, was a McCartney penned ballad – Love of the Loved, the result of a friendship developed in the Cavern Club, where both Black and the Beatles sang in the 1961-1963 period.
The language of the Liverpool music scene became embedded in popular culture – Scouse terms such as “fab”, and “gear” for clothes, “grotty” for dirty/unappealing; “shag” for the proverbial; and “y’know” as a catch-all phrase infiltrated and permanently subverted the Queen’s English.
Cosmopolitan London produced the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Who, Cream; Manchester produced Herman’s Hermits; Newcastle produced The Animals and Belfast produced Them (Gloria) and the unique vocals of Van Morrison. None of these cities, however, fused musical and cultural attributes to the same extent as Liverpool.
It was inevitable that Liverpool groups and singers were also fashion trend-setters – from the Beatles’ hairstyles to the make-up of Dusty Springfield. It was also no coincidence that Lynne Randell, the Liverpool-born Australian singer, typified and popularised the desirable fashion look for Australian female teenagers.
Dedicated Followers of Fashion
Music spawned fashion in a broader cultural context – clothes; hairstyles; musical styles; innovations in eastern mysticism and the sexual/drug liberated atmosphere of swinging London.
The early sixties generation who were part of the burgeoning music scene in England were largely born in the mid to late 1940s. In parts of Britain, they were the first generation to experience the affluence of full employment and enjoyed relatively high earnings in localised economic booms (eg in London and Liverpool). The 1960s also provided an opportunity for young people to participate in an extended adolescence with greater scope for avenues of higher education. The permeation of mass media including TV, radio and music-oriented press publications provided the publicity and popularity that could generate a following and sustain a musical wave.
Discos and dance venues like the Mecca, the Hammersmith Palais, the Marquee, the Flamingo, the Ramjam and the Scene Club, where the Rolling Stones first played, became the haunts and breeding ground of beat music.
The era conspired with the youthful generation of music-influenced mods, attuned to creative innovations in fashion and in musical style. With the emergence of the Beatles and a myriad of groups, the Swinging Sixties took hold.
The 1960s were a decade of change & fashion styles. Britain emerged at that time as a musical crucible for the changing values and fashions of the age.
The Sixties celebrated youth (David Bailey’s fashion photos; Carnaby St clothes) and rebellion against authority and interest in revolution. The drab grey world of postwar Britain was being rapidly overwhelmed by fashion conscious youth wearing startling fashion colours and listening to exciting musical groups.
John Stephens, a Glaswegian who defined London fashion style, set up a clothes shop in Carnaby St. With blaring contemporary beat music, kaleidoscopic window displays and garment racks that spilled onto the outdoor pavement, fashion now ruled the streets. Shopping for clothes became a lifestyle experience and the King’s Road in Chelsea and London boutiques like Biba catered for a cashed-up young ‘mod’ crowd.
Although revolution was manifested not in London but in the 1968 Paris riots – “aux barricades! L’imagination au pouvoir!” – a revolutionary mood of rebellion infused British fashion and art and music. The period spawned an interest in the esoteric – ranging from eastern religions (Maharishi Yogi; Hare Krishna) to diverse and innovative musical forms (eg Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells; the use of sitars by the Beatles).
Only in Britain, however, and most importantly in the vibrant cities of London & Liverpool, was the expressive youthful spirit of the age fully embraced and enlivened in a cultural sense. Artists became icons and music became the preferred medium of the youth message.
The Mod Beat
The music was full of vitality (Gerry & the Pacemakers) and experimentation (eg the use of harmonica by Lennon in the Beatles’ Love me Do).
Sometimes the music had a hard edge, manifested most overtly in the Animals, the tough Tyneside group whose origins were in Newcastle’s Downbeat Club. The Animals’ Eric Burdon’s deep gravelly vocals wailed of lost youth in House of the Rising Sun (1964) and voiced the despair of dead-end futures in We Gotta Get out of this Place. The Rolling Stones played on these same themes with a more overt sexual accent in Satisfaction and a more nihilistic tone in Paint it Black.
The Who’s anthemic My Generation (1965) epitomised youthful energy, urgency and passion in musical form. The song made a virtue of Roger Daltrey’s stuttering speech impediment. Pete Townsend’s classic guitar feedback and Keith Moon’s frantic drumming created the chaotic environment that gave resonance to the refrain “Hope I die before I get old”.
The music had a mellower but nonetheless powerful sound. Dusty Springfield (Mary O’Brien), with her brother Tom, was originally a member of a folk-rock fusion band, the Springfields. Their song Silver Threads and Golden Needles was a big hit in 1964. Tom Springfield’s compositions were later to propel the Seekers to international prominence.
As a solo artist, Dusty rode the love-tragic railway with I only want to be with you (1964) and You Don’t have to say you love me (1966). She also represented the archetypal fashion icon of the period – heavily lacquered hairstyle; diaphanous silk gowns; Panda-style dark eye make-up. Although Dusty had a dramatic voice with natural power and range, she amplified her vocal attributes by recording her biggest hit in the stairwell of a seven-storey circular staircase to achieve a haunting echo effect.
When they launched themselves nationally in 1963 as the Beatles, the fab four transformed the British music scene. She Loves You, their debut single, sold over 1 million records. It boasted an energetic working class refrain (yeah yeah yeah) and its simple lyrics were part of everyday language. Twist and Shout, their EP release, with a rawer rock sound, sold over 250,000 copies. They spawned early imitators in Australia such as The Invaders, whose hit single She’s A Mod included the already famous “yeah yeah yeah” refrain.
The Beatles dominated the charts and were extremely adept at saturating the media with their music. BBC radio produced a 15 week program Pop Go the Beatles; ABC TV screened Lucky Stars, featuring the Beatles; Beat Monthly, a national music magazine, gave prominence to the Beatles and other Liverpool groups. With their Scouse humour and witty one-liners, the Beatles were a media publicity manager’s dream. While there was no commercial radio in the UK, with the exception of pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Radio Atlantic, the Beatles’ domination of the BBC airwaves provided unstoppable musical and popular momentum.
Previously, soloists with a backing band often singing American hits had dominated the music scene– eg Cliff Richard, backed by the Shadows. After the popularity of the Beatles and the emergence of groups as the new form of musical paradigm, soloists declined and groups began writing their own music and lyrics. This music was often self-composed, a collaborative effort and expressed characteristics of the group’s origins.
Pills & Spills
The 60s also inaugurated the era of sexual liberation. Contraceptives were readily available; the Pill made sex safe for girls. If the mood was right, your luck was in. Importantly, the music established the mood.
The easy availability of drugs was also a feature of the times. “We were all pillheads” confessed The Who’s Roger Daltrey. Uppers or pep pills bred a hyped-up energy that made some people go “over the top”. Daltrey noted the effects on his colleagues: “We were probably the most aggressive group that’s ever happened in England.” The Who’s swirling arms and a swirling sound attested to this, with Peter Townsend’s shrill guitar soaring over the pounding backbeat of Keith Moon’s double-bass drumkit with its forest of clanging cymbals. The Who’s musical mayhem resulted in the staged destruction of instruments, as infamous as Keith Moon’s party trick of setting fire to hotel mattresses and launching these smouldering items from hotel windows into swimming pools or onto unsuspecting pedestrians below.
Drugs later saturated the psychedelic music scene. From Cream’s In A White Room and The Story of Brave Ulysses to the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the vibes were drug-soaked, hip and ultra-cool.
Surging Sounds in SummerLand
These musical influences were to rapidly permeate the Australian cultural fabric and dominate popular music.
Song lyrics spread ideas and values. The predominance of the musical beat gave focus and profoundly influenced the emerging Aussie music scene.
While the British sound was influential in Australia, the contribution of British-born artists was seminal.
In the early 1960s, more than 1 million British migrants arrived in Australia – known as the land of perpetual summer – on “assisted passages”. Australia was undergoing reconstruction and was keen to attract working class migrants. Known as 10-Pound tourists, many families included young lads who had grown up in the nascent swinging period of the British music scene and whose influences gave rise to a unique version of Aussie music. This population also provided an enthusiastic base of fans who appreciated the music of the Beatles and the Stones and who supported local music that mined similar musical veins.
Any British migrants not sponsored by families or by employers were placed in migrant hostels, which were usually converted wartime bases and camps. Tragically, 25% of British people allocated to these hostels returned home. Those that remained, however, provided raw musical talent. What’s more, that nascent talent was young, energetic, creative and concentrated in specific locations – Elizabeth in Adelaide; Villawood in Sydney; Nunawading in Melbourne. They were to burst onto an Australian cultural environment that provided limitless opportunity.
The Beatles visit to Australia in 1964 sparked Beatlemania. In 1964, when they toured Australia, the Beatles were able to attract a crowd of 300,000 in Adelaide who lined the 10-mile route from the airport to Adelaide City to see them. Crowds of 250,000 greeted them in Melbourne.
At the time, the Beatles had an incredible 14 singles in the US top 100.
Their influence in Australia was both immediate and profound. The Beatles’ success and whirlwind tour of Australia in 1964 launched a massive upheaval in Aussie music. Groups composed often of British kids were influenced by the British beat and gave voice and energy to new anthems of rock that re-invigorated Aussie music.
Prior to the arrival of the Beatles, Melbourne dances featured music that comprised about 50% traditional jazz and 50% rock. After the Beatles’ visit, almost no dances featured jazz music. A new beat had taken over. Other British groups also toured Australia at that time, further embedding the British musical influence and inspiring imitators. 1964 onward saw a host of young British and Australian born singers, guitarists and drummers form bands to play the same style (some even tried to sound the same) as their idols. The best of these bands soared to the top of the Aussie music spire.
The British cultural music invasion took a firm hold of the Australian music public and alternatives were no longer desirable or possible.
Spicks and Specks – British-born Solo singers & Groups
Before the 1960s, Slim Dusty, Johnny O’Keefe and Col Joye dominated popular music in Australia. Apart from the Wild One’s rock style, the music was relatively sedate, boring and predictable. As British-born artists began to emerge, things started to change. At first, the change was barely noticeable.
Then, a growing number of British-born singers started to put their stamp on Aussie music.
The attractive looks and palpably fresh youthfulness of many of these artists were made-to-order features for the emerging television market. While the initial hook was their looks, it was their singing style that generated excitement.
Frank Ifield, born in Coventry, migrated to Australia with his family while still a lad. Aged 21, he recorded Whiplash in 1957, a song about the 1851 goldrush. In 1962, his yodelling vocals launched I Remember You, which sold over 1 million records and was the first international hit by an Australian artist. He relocated to the UK on this wave of success and for several years, headlining the charts there. He was the first singer to achieve three consecutive number 1 hits in Britain with I Remember You, Lovesick Blues (1962) and Wayward Wind (1963). The arrival of the Beatles wave, however, overwhelmed traditional musical styles and gradually consigned his music to the cabaret circuit.
Bryan Davies at seventeen became the perennially smiling compere of the Bryan Davies TV show, featuring popular music. A teen idol, he headed the charts with Dream Girl in 1961. Influenced by the Beatles, his later songs included Night and Day and I’m Gonna Make you Cry.
Lynne Randell (Randall) from Liverpool was a Go!! Show TV regular and typified the Swinging London style in Oz. Allan Field, an English comedian, who compered the Beatles’s 1964 tour of Oz, hosted the Go!! Show, dedicated to pop music.
A curvy sixteen-year-old, Randell wore backless dresses, striped tops and bell-bottom pants, while dancing and singing Going out of My Head 1966 with gusto. She had dollybird looks, which earned her the admiring title of Australia’s ‘Miss Mod’. In a successful example of exporting coals to Newcastle, she performed at the legendary Cavern Club in her hometown Liverpool. She had a huge hit with Ciao Baby in 1967 and supported the US group The Monkees on their 1967 American tour, eventually settling in the US before returning to Melbourne and calling it a day.
Barry Stanton supported the wildest and best of the original Australian rock stars, Johnny O’Keefe, and was part of the tour that almost ended O’Keefe’s life when he crashed his Belvedere. Stanton appeared regularly on O’Keefe’s TV show Sing, Sing, Sing and his best known hit was Beggin’ on my Knees (1961). He was an early victim of the decline in popularity of solo singers.
Buddy England (Ian Kilgower) was another Go!! Show regular, belting out hits like There Goes My Baby 1966 and What a Wonderful World 1969. He later became the lead singer of the Mixtures and in the 1977 replaced Bruce Woodley in the Seekers.
Jon English was the lead vocalist with the Sebastian Hardie group, a Sydney suburban dance band in 1968. The band backed Johnny O’Keefe in 1969 before English launched a solo career in a range of stage musicals, most famously as Judas in the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which ran from 1972 to 1974. He also had several record hits with Hollywood Seven 1976 and Turn the Page 1975. He is still appearing in stage musicals including Gilbert & Sullivan.
The Bee Gees were primarily vocalists, whose harmonies dominated the songs. Born in Douglas on the Isle of Man, to Barbara, a singer, and Hughie, a band leader, Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb emerged after a long musical grounding in Brisbane, where they had a regular singing gig at the Redcliffe Speedway. Originally the brothers sang skiffle in the style of Tommy Steele, later moving to a harmonic style to record Spicks & Specks in 1966, which first featured their marvellous melodies and vocal harmonies. Barry Gibb, the lead singer, specialised in writing love ballads with a heavy interplay of piano and horns and the backing sound of his brothers’ heartbreaking male harmonies.
Following their first Aussie hit, the Bee Gees travelled on the Fairsky to London. From being expatriate Britons in Australia, they returned to England in 1967, ironically to be managed by an expatriate Australian, Robert Stigwood. With the extensive falsetto range of the ferret-faced Robin, the Gibb brothers produced To Love Somebody in 1967, I’ve Got to Get a Message to You in 1968 and Lonely Days 1970.
The Gibb brothers must have enjoyed the sublime taste of whisky or porridge or both as Barry Gibb married Linda, a Miss Edinburgh of 1967 and Maurice Gibb married Lulu, a Scots-born British pop star in 1969. The Bee Gees proceeded to a successful International career in the 1970s following the popularity of their three-part harmony ‘disco” songs in the 1978 movie Saturday Night Fever (Stayin Alive and Night Fever).
Barry Gibb continued to write hit songs for other artists, including Islands in the Stream, a Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton duet that became the most successful country song ever recorded.
Judith Durham, a jazz singer, defined The Seekers with her pure soaring voice. With Keith Potger, the English-born bassist, the Seekers had a debut hit with Waltzing Matilda. After travelling to London via a world cruise on the Sitmar line, the Seekers found an ideal songwriter in Tom Springfield whose song I’ll Never Find Another You sold nearly 2 million records, followed by A World of Our Own in 1965. Other Springfield compositions The Carnival is Over 1965 and Georgy Girl 1967 maintained the group’s momentum in Britain. Their album Best of the Seekers supplanted the Beatles self-titled album (the white album) in 1968.
Olivia Newton-John was born into an academic family in Cambridge. Her music career began as a folk singer in Melbourne until she won first prize in a talent quest on Johnny O’Keefe’s Sing Sing Sing television show. The prize was a trip to England, where she appeared on BBC TV, eventually supporting Cliff Richard on tours of Europe. Her ballad style was appealing and very successful. In 1971, she released If Not For You and Banks of the Ohio from her self-titled debut album, produced by her fiancee and Shadows’ band member, Bruce Welch.
In 1972, she issued a lilting version of George Harrison’s What Is Life? A ballad co-composed by Peter Allen, I Honestly Love You became a hit in the US in 1974 and she relocated to California, where she and Pat Carroll, her Australian singing partner in Britain, established a fashion chain, Koala Blue.
Newton-John’s greatest hits emerged from her role in the film Grease. You’re the One that I Want, written by John Farrar, previously of Melbourne band The Strangers and the British group, the Shadows, Hopelessly Devoted to You and Summer Nights were all international hits in 1978.
John (Johnny) Farnham was born in Dagenham, England. While some may proffer that the name of his birthplace characterised his style, he nonetheless had a string of hits in Australia the late sixties of which Sadie 1967, One 1969 and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head 1969 are the most well remembered. Another victim of the declining solo singer popularity, he went from King of Pop to a cabaret/RSL venue circuit singer in the 1970s. He subsequently joined the Little River Band as lead singer following the departure of Glenn Shorrock in 1982. He revived his solo career in 1986 with the album Whispering Jack and the single You’re The Voice, a song co-composed by Chris Thompson of the Manfred Mann Earth Band and Keith Reid of Procul Harum. He had an international hit with the album Chain Reaction and the single Burn For You in 1990. His lasting legacy to the Aussie music industry, however, was the perpetual farewell tour (for absolutely last time ever…).
A Beat Like a Thunderclap
The Atlantics, Sydney’s premier group in the early 1960s, were heavily influenced by the Shadows.
The Shadows were a predominantly instrumental British group (Apache), who also formed the backing band for Cliff Richard. The band’s leading lights were Hank Marvin (Brian Rankin, from Newcastle) and Bruce Welch (Bruce Cripps from Sussex). Bruce Welch later was engaged to Olivia Newton-John, whose early British records he produced. In the early 1970s, John Farrar joined the group. He was later to marry Pat Carroll, Olivia’s singing partner, and composed a number of Newton-John’s greatest hits. Hank Marvin eventually migrated to Australia in the 1980s, producing Aussie music from his new home in Newcastle, Australia.
The Atlantics’ duelling twanging guitars and thundering backbeats on Bombora and The Crusher (1963) from their Now It’s Stompin’ Time album became surf anthems. They pioneered many guitar techniques later made popular by Jimi Hendrix. The Atlantics popularised The Stomp dance style at Surf City in King’s Cross. An original Aussie dance style, the Stomp dominated the music scene for a brief 18-month period: the basic moves required two thumps with the right foot, two thumps with the left and a lot of leaping about with hands behind one’s back.
Colin Cook, born to British parents in the Indian sub-continent in Bangladesh, subsequently became the lead singer with the Thunderbirds. Peter Robinson was another British-born band member. The Thunderbirds was the first distinctive Australian rock and roll band. Cook, the lead singer, was an early teenage idol in Australia, crooning Crying Over You and Sea of Love and producing his biggest hit Heart in 1964. He returned to Britain in the late 1960s, performing in the stage musicals Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Betty McQuade, the Scots-born singer, used the Thunderbirds as her backing band. As a solo performer, her most memorable hits were Midnight Bus, originally recorded in 1961 and re-recorded in 1965 and Blue Train in 1966. Angst-ridden slow blues tunes, however, proved to be a bus to nowhere as she didn’t trouble the music charts afterward.
Tony Worsley was the lead singer of the Fabulous Blue Jays, a Sydney group. Something’s Got a Hold on Me became their biggest hit although their lasting claim to fame was supporting the Kinks and Manfred Mann in their joint tour of Australia.
Derek Fitton formed Derek’s Accent in 1966 in Sydney. Comprising five teenage British migrants, the group played beat pop – Derek’s accent was musical as well as literal. Ain’t Got No Feeling was their one hit.
The Throb, a Sydney rhythm & blues band, mirrored the Easybeats in composition. John Bell & Denny Burgess were the British element. Their version of Fortune Teller was issued in Australia prior to the Rolling Stones single and did well. The Throb’s other hit was a rock version of the folk song Black is the colour (“of my true love’s hair”). Bassist Bob Daisley later played with Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath fame.
An instrumental group also influenced by the Shadows, the Melbourne-based Phantoms created Stampede in 1962 and The Rumble in 1963. They comprised four young British boys from the Nunawading migrant hostel – Alan “Ollie” Fenton, Dave Lincoln, Gene Taylor and Pete Watson. Watson, from South London, recruited a new lead guitarist, a young Mike Brady, a fellow south Londoner from Croydon, who had settled at Fishermen’s Bend migrant hostel. The Phantoms established a national profile when they supported the Beatles during their 1964 tour of Australia.
Later, Mike Brady, Pete Watson and a fellow Brit, Danny Finley formed MPD Ltd, which had a meteoric rise and fall. Fuelled by appearances on the Go!! Show, Little Boy Sad 1965 became the group’s first hit. A popular band with an energetic stage show, MPD played in Yardbirds style. The group played one concert with the Easybeats and the Fabulous Blue Jays at Brisbane’s Festival Hall that famously ended in a complete riot, with female fans going berserk on stage. While the band produced a further hit with Lonely Boy in 1966, the group soon folded and Mike Brady went on to a successful solo career.
Mike Furber, the British lead singer of the Bowery Boys started the beat style in Melbourne with Just a Poor Boy in 1965 and You Stole My Love in 1966. His last successful single was the Vanda & Young penned I’m On Fire in 1969. After a period of national service, Furber tragically committed suicide.
Villawood Dreaming – Friday on My Mind
The Easybeats, formed at Villawood Migrant Hostel in the south-western area of Sydney in 1965, comprised an amalgam of British and Dutch musicians whose style later came to define Australian music.
The precocious fifteen-year-old lead singer was Stevie Wright from Leeds
The other Easybeats group members were George Young (Scotland); Gordon ‘Snowy’ Fleet, a drummer from Liverpool; and Johannes Vandenberg (Harry Vanda) and Dick Diamonde, two Dutch guitarists. Harry Vanda had before migrating to Australia played with a Dutch group strongly influenced by the Shadows. The Easybeats originally played at the Beatle Village club in Sydney.
Snowy Fleet, from the style capital Liverpool, dressed the band in the height of current Liverpudlian fashion, with the band wearing grouse matching suits. Snowy also proposed the band’s memorable Easybeats name.
The band featured a crescendo of ascending duelling guitars backed by a strong rhythm beat and the lilting but powerful voice of Wright.
The Wright/Young songwriting team spurred the group to fame with She’s So Fine (1966) and Sorry (1966). Vanda and Young collaborated for two of the epic songs of Aussie rock – Wedding Ring 1965 and Friday on My Mind (1966), recently voted the best Aussie song of the twentieth century. As Harry Vanda reminisced, Friday on My Mind was inspired by the bands’ common Villawood experiences: “Being hostel boys, that’s what you dream about all week – Friday”. The iconic Aussie single was – perhaps appropriately – recorded in the UK in the famous Abbey Road Studios. The song sold in excess of one million copies internationally and is the most recognisable song of the 1960s Aussie music scene.
The Easybeats supported the Rolling Stones on their European tour in late 1966 and in 1967, supported Gene Pitney on his US tour. The band produced two further small scale singles The Music Goes Round My Head and a rock number, Good Times in 1968 before eventually breaking up in 1969.
Stevie Wright went on to take the lead role in one of Australia’s most popular stage musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar, in 1971. As a solo artist, he sang the brilliant Evie Parts 1, 2 & 3 (1974). This Vanda/Young produced masterpiece comprised 11 minutes and 24 seconds of soaring vocals and ebullient instrumentals and was the longest single to feature on Australian record charts in a period when the traditional radio airtime for a song was between 3 and 4 minutes.
Vanda and Young also wrote and produced a string of hits for other Aussie recording artists, starting with Johnny Young’s song Step Back (1966) and ranging through to Stevie Wright’s Evie (1974). Under the stage-name ‘Flash and the Pan’, they also produced a pop hit Hey St Peter in 1977 followed by Down Among the Dead Men in 1978. Both songs were synthesisers driven, with spoken words backed by a shouted chorus.
The Groop had a Shadows-inspired beat and featured Peter Bruce, a former member of the skiffle-period British band, the Dave Clark Five. The Groop’s hits included I’m Satisfied 1966 and Woman You’re Breaking Me 1967. The band won Hoadley’s National Battle of the Sounds in 1967, winning the traditional ship cruise to London. While their sojourn was unsuccessful they returned to Australia in 1968 to record Such a Lovely Way in 1968, a tune heavily influenced by Beatles’ compositions.
Before the band wound up, The Groop provided the instrumental backing to Russell Morris’ psychedelic classic The Real Thing in 1969. This six-minute collage of sounds included an excerpt of one of Hitler’s speeches, counterpointing the Groop’s powerful instrumental sound. Two band members, Brian Cadd and Don Mudie later joined Glenn Shorrock, formerly of the Twilights, in Axiom.
Yonder She’s Walking!
1966 was the year of Revolver (Beatles) and Paint it Black (Rolling Stones). In the US, by contrast, it was the year of Good Vibrations (Beach Boys).
It was clear from the music popularly being played and listened to throughout Australia which musical influence held sway in the land down under.
In addition to groups with British-born singers or band members, British music was hugely influential in the Aussie music scene. The Missing Links (Wild About You 1965), an innovative although short-lived band, modelled themselves on The Who. Using powerful amplifiers and strong guitar feedback sounds, their performances also involved smashing guitars and drums on stage. In a bizarre innovation, they recorded one song backwards with the back-to-front title “H’Tuom Tuhs”. Amazingly, the song was popular although the lyrics were, understandably, indecipherable.
Melbourne and Sydney rapidly became the epicentres of the burgeoning music scene in Australia. Melbourne had discotheques like Sebastian’s in Spring St; the Thumpin’ Tum in Little LaTrobe St; the Biting Eye, Prince Albert’s, The Catcher in South Melbourne and an endless range of suburban dances. The Melbourne music scene attracted the best interstate bands – the Twilights and the Masters’ Apprentices from Adelaide; the Valentines from Perth; the Purple Hearts from Brisbane and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs from Sydney.
A small coterie of avant-garde jazz players also appreciated the potential of the British sound and helped shape Australian rhythm and blues style.
Formed from the Red Onion Jazz Band and the Wild Cherries, The Loved Ones performed rhythm and blues with a rock direction. While an original sound, attributable to the unique musicianship of the group, the Beatles and the broader Merseybeat style unarguably influenced their sound.
The Loved Ones with the inimitable Gerry Humphreys, the eccentric lead singer with a magnificent jazz-infused voice, gave birth to unique expositions of Aussie music. Their biggest hit, The Loved One (1966), was a chord progression of vocals supported by intensifying organ and guitar. The song featured a unique double rhythm, cleverly established by handclapping which dominated the two-beat pattern, developing a strong atmosphere of excitement until the release of Gerry’s opening soaring blues-style yell: “Yonder she’s walking!”
The band’s album, Magic Box, is reputedly the only Aussie record of the 1960s to remain continuously in print. Everlovin’ Man (1966) and Sad Dark Eyes (1967) were the group’s other classic single releases. An EP, Blueberry Hill, was released in late 1966. Tragically, the band split after 18 months.
Gerry Humphreys went on to form Gerry & the Joy Band and produced a popular hit Rave On in 1972 followed by Ongo Bongo, a single that had Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford of Daddy Cool playing in support. Humphreys compered the first Sunbury Festival in 1972, before returning to London in 1977, where he dropped out of the music scene for a decade.
INXS later recorded a version of The Loved One in 1982, re-released on their platinum-selling Kick album in 1988. Based on the re-emergence of popular acclaim for this musical style, Gerry & The Loved Ones briefly re-formed and toured Australia in 1988, producing a live album Live on Blueberry Hill in 1988. Gerry died in 2005, aged only 62.
Sex, Thugs, Rock n Roll
The Purple Hearts, a name derived from the speed tablets (pep pills) preferred by the English mods of the sixties, comprised Brits Mick Hadley, lead singer, and Bob Dames, a bass player, who had first hand experience of the London blues scene, and Scots-born Fred Pickard. The band also featured a young Queenslander, John Baslington ‘Barry’ Lyde, later to become famous as Lobby Loyde. Another English guitarist Tony Cahill joined the group in 1966; he eventually replaced Snowy Fleet in the Easybeats line-up in 1968.
The Purple Hearts sang uncompromising rhythm and blues. Founded in Brisbane they initially relocated to Sydney before moving to the active Melbourne music scene in early 1966. Their first single in 1964 was Long Legged Baby; the B-side was Them’s Gloria. They enjoyed two further hits in 1966, Of Hopes and Dreams and Tombstones and Early in the Morning, before the band split in 1967.
Lobby joined the one-time jazz band, Wild Cherries in 1967 and produced experimental psychedelic music. In 1968, Loyde joined the Aztecs, performing heavy rock numbers. With Billy Thorpe also on guitar, the Aztecs established a reputation as the wildest rock band in Oz. Loyde later formed the Coloured Balls, a sharpie proto-skinhead band and joined Rose Tattoo in 1979. Known as the master of amplified guitar feedback, Loyde has been Australia’s most famous guitar hero for a generation of kids.
Ian McCausland, a Scots-born guitarist, played with Ray Hoff and the Offbeats, some of whose members later joined the Aztecs.
Manchester-born Billy Thorpe inaugurated the hands-behind the back dancing style, which mirrored the style of the English swinging beat singers. Like the fashionable Mods, the original Aztecs wore satin shirts, skin-tight striped pants and mops of long hair. Tony Barber from Norwich emigrated from Britain to Australia as a young man on the Fairstar and subsequently joined the Aztecs. Like many British migrants with musical inclinations, Barber maintained a strong link with English fashions, including musical developments. His brother in England sent him a copy of the Rolling Stones EP that included a cover of Poison Ivy. Barber re-arranged the song and it became the first hit single for the Aztecs.
In addition to Poison Ivy, the Aztecs had a huge hit with Over the Rainbow (1965), a mellower ballad piece that contrasted with their later heavier rock period that gave birth to CC Rider. The Aztecs played at Surf City in the Cross, which accommodated 3000 stomping music lovers and the band’s popularity led to Thorpe compering a pop music TV show, It’s All Happening in 1966. Thorpe’s book Sex, Thugs, Rock N Roll provides a worm’s eye view of the lifestyle and the music of this period in Sydney.
In a performance that attained legendary status, Thorpe and the Aztecs performed at the Bondi Lifesaving Club in Sydney. With the volume at full blast, the group performed their hits in the upstairs club lounge, which also featured a massive tropical fish tank. By the time the group had finished their set, all the fish had gone belly up in the tank, killed by the thumping vibrations of their amplifiers. In recognition of this performance, for a time the group became known as “Billy Killed the Fish” but the name never quite stuck. Moving into the realms of pub rock, the Aztecs performed in brick sheds filled to the rafters with screaming drunken fans (and nowhere near aquarium fish).
On the Australia Day weekend of 1972, at a farm near Diggers’ Rest, Billy Thorpe and the New Aztecs, strutting a hard rock line, headlined the Sunbury Rock Festival. They performed an 18 minute rendition of Ooh Poo Pa Doo during which, coining a slogan for his generation, Thorpie urged the crowd to ‘Suck more Piss’. Thorpie’s autobiographical song Most People I know (think that I’m Crazy) epitomised the evolution of the Aztec sound.
The Beatletown Push – Adelaide Bands of the 1960s
The working class northern Adelaide suburbs of Elizabeth and Salisbury were situated close to the car plants and industrial factories of Adelaide. Many British families settled there. It was no coincidence that Adelaide gave rise to a disproportionate number of great rock bands in the 1960s. Receptive to the British music trends, the young migrants of Adelaide possessed the same rhythm, the same sense of style and the same musical DNA as their swinging London brothers. The Master’s Apprentices, the Twilights, the Mixtures and Zoot all originated in Elizabeth. In homage to the British settlement and the crop of musical groups which that environment spawned, Elizabeth became known locally as Beatletown.
Heavily influenced by the musical style of the Beatles, the Zoot, with John D’Arcy on lead guitar, produced an appealing layered harder rock version of Eleanor Rigby. Their pink flouncy outfits, however, were an eyesore and an affront to good taste and they were overshadowed by the harder playing Master’s Apprentices, their hometown rivals.
Adelaide gave rise to the Master’s Apprentices, formerly the Mustangs, a Shadows-influenced instrumental band. Jim Keays, Scottish-born, formed the Masters at Salisbury Migrant Hostel with Colin Burgess, brother of Denny Burgess of the Throb. The group generated a string of hits starting with Undecided in 1967, a rocking classic written by guitarists Mick Bower and Rick Harrison and influenced by the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and Animals blues-rock sound. Later came the psychedelic Living in a Child’s Dream in 1967, influenced by the Beatles’ Sergeant Peppers’ album and voted song of the year by the Aussie music bible, Go Set.
After running second to the Groop in Hoadley’s National Battle of the Sounds in 1968, the Masters also received boat tickets to London. They eventually went to London in 1970 and they recorded the evocative Because I Love You as part of their Choice Cuts album in 1971 in one of Abbey Road’s studios while John Lennon was recording Working Class Hero in studio 1. Further hits included Turn Up Your Radio, still touted as an Aussie rock classic.
Keays went on to a successful solo career, releasing an album, Boy from the Stars in 1974. In a curious sidelight, Keays also sang on Monster Planet, an album produced by one of Australia’s few electronic bands, Cybotron in 1975.
The Twilights with Glenn Shorrock, another Elizabethan denizen, as lead singer produced eight pop hits, including Needle in a Haystack and Baby let me take you home. Sporting mod haircuts in imitation of the Small Faces, they tried to replicate the Beatles guitar sound, and came closest on Cathy Come Home. Shorrock later became lead singer of newly formed Axiom (Little Ray of Sunshine). Terry Britten, the group’s lead guitarist, later composed Devil Woman for Cliff Richard and What’s Love Got To do with It for Tina Turner.
The Twilights won the Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds competition and went to London. Winning this competition was often the death-knell for the winning band. The winners won a trip to London but had to play on the Sitmar cruise ship; the bands received no support once they arrived and often found it impossible to get playing gigs or production support to make records. Most winning bands that did travel to London broke up soon after. The Twilights started the trend.
The Mixtures comprised Idris Jones as lead singer, who moved in and out of the group, interchanging lead vocals with fellow British singer, Buddy England. The Mixtures’ masterful pop of In the Summertime coincided with the 1970 radio ban by Australian radio stations of major labels and overseas records due to a royalty payment dispute. This allowed Aussie versions of overseas songs like In the Summertime to blossom. The memorable Pushbike Song – “Riding along on my pushbike, honey”- followed in 1971, which secured a top ten billing on the British music charts. Following this success the band travelled to London in 1971, releasing Captain Zero in 1972, before succumbing to the disease that befell most Aussie groups – failure and disillusion in London.
Barrie McAskill, the Scots-born singer, fronted the Levi Smith Clefs, a successful Adelaide dance band. The group’s first single, House of the Rising Sun in 1966 clearly displayed their musical influences. The group later produced a standout version of the Beatles’ classic We can work it out in 1970. When the Clefs folded, several band members formed Tully, a progressive rock band, which was the first Australian band to use a Moog synthesiser.
The Beatles had bequeathed an enduring musical legacy and the bands of Beatletown paid suitable homage to their muses.
Way out West – Groovers of the Heart
The Valentines from Perth with the Scots-born Bon Scott and the English-born Vince Lovegrove as lead singers (My Old Man’s A Groovy Old Man) paid homage to the skiffle era with the title of the song recalling Lonnie Donegan’s My Old Man’s A Dustman. My Old Man’s A Groovy Old Man was written by Vanda & Young and was inspired by George Young’s old man. The Young patriarch must have been a real groover to father three kids in George (Easybeats) and Malcolm & Angus (AC/DC), whose careers contributed so seminally to Aussie music and whose musical trajectories spanned the golden age of Aussie rock music.
The Valentines acquired notoriety as the first Aussie band to be arrested for possession of marijuana. Bon Scott, who went on to front AC/DC, preferred multiple forms of excess and died of alcoholic poisoning after a drinking binge in 1980. AC/DC issued a tribute album Back in Black in memory of their late lamented larrikin lead singer.
The Perth band, the Dugites, boasted a keyboard player, British-born Bob Andrews, who had played with Graham Parker and the Rumour in the UK. The Dugites’ funky soul sound, supported by piercing keyboard rhythm, featured on In Your Car and No God, No Master.
Dave Hole, the acclaimed English-born blues guitarist, played a masterful slide guitar. He formed the Beaten Tracks in 1968, with Wendy Saddington as lead singer and Phil Manning on guitar. After some line-up changes, Beaten Tracks became Chain, Australia’s premier blues band whose classic gutsy blues hit Black & Blue took flight in 1971.
Ballads, Anthems & Glam-rock Dags
Richard Clapton was an Aussie-born artist who adapted his name from those of his musical heroes – Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. Richard spent his formative musical years in Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He emerged imbued with the musical spirit of the 1960s and produced the classic Girls on the Avenue in 1975 and Deep Water in 1978, ballads of timeless appeal and artistry.
Mike Brady, the Croydon-born former rocker with MPD Ltd, continued a successful songwriting career, creating the Aussie Rules anthems, Up there Cazaly in 1979 and That’s the Thing about Football in 1990.
In the 1970s Linda George produced the hit I’m not Mama’s Little Girl and then promptly faded from view.
The Moir Sisters, comprising three Scots-born sisters Jean, Margo & Lesley also had a one-hit wonder with the sweet and mildly suggestive Good Morning How Are You?
William Shakespeare (Johnny Caves) a glam-rock construct, in imitation of David Bowie and Garry Glitter, was the creation of Vanda & Young. Shakespeare, dressed in platform shoes and glitter costumes with Elizabethan styling, sang the Vanda & Young compositions, My Little Angel and Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You in 1974. My Little Angel was subsequently voted the daggiest song of its generation and Shakespeare ended his days headlining Dag Nights on the nostalgia circuit.
Dirty Deeds Down Under
AC/DC was headlined by Ronald “Bon” Scott, the tattooed larrikin lead singer previously with the Valentines & Fraternity. He joined Angus & Malcolm Young, the younger siblings of George Young (of Easybeats fame) who played guitars, and Englishman Cliff Williams. Brian Johnson, a Geordie, was recruited to replace Bon Scott following the lead singer’s death in 1980.
AC/DC’s original repertoire comprised cover versions of Beatles, Stones and Chuck Berry classics. They were quickly to develop their own powerful unique form of high energy Aussie rock and roll. In a unique musical genre crossover, the band took the rawness and rugged energetic playing of pub rock venues to a Countdown teen audience, establishing a phenomenally broad base of fans. Their stage antics included a schoolboy-uniformed Angus doing a gradual strip, climaxing in a full-rear nude view.
AC/DC’s hits included Baby Please Don’t Go (1975), the Young/Scott/Young composition High Voltage (1975), followed by TNT, Jailbreak and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in 1976. The group’s classic Long Way to the Top, produced by Harry Vanda and George Young in Sydney in 1976, was the first and possibly only Australian rock and roll record with a bagpipe solo (played by Bon Scott). The song became a legitimate and long-lasting anthem for Aussie rock.
After travelling to the UK in 1976, AC/DC toured in support of Black Sabbath, producing Let There Be Rock in 1977. Highway To Hell followed in 1979. Their album, Back in Black, a eulogy to the departed Bon Scott, featured You Shook Me All Night Long.
Stranded on a Distant Shore – Punks Vs Rockers in the 1970s
With the decline in British migration, British born artists continued to feature albeit less prominently in Australian musical groups in the 1970s.
Chris Bailey, the Kenyan-born Belfast-raised lead singer of punk-new wave band, The Saints, sang his powerhouse snarling lyrics on (I’m) Stranded in 1976. Another English-born band member, Alasdair ‘Algy’ Ward joined the Saints in 1977, during their tour of Britain.
The band notoriously played at parties at their house in Petrie Terrace, Brisbane, dubbed Club 76. These sessions featured the song Erotic Neurotic that became a hit single in 1977. Who can forget – or more aptly who can remember- the prophetically titled classic EP release Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow.
After an appearance singing this song on Countdown, the group was permanently banned from the program after Bailey commented derogatorily about the content and standard of the show.
McPhee, a Sydney group, included Terry Popple, the former drummer of the British blues band Tramline. The band produced a self-titled album in 1971, which featured Indian Rope Man, with a transcendent Hammond organ backed by driven drumming pyrotechnics.
Mick Rogers, the English-born lead singer of Bulldog, a blues-influenced band of the 1970s, later played guitar with Doug Parkinson’s In Focus, well known for their version of the Beatles’ Dear Prudence, released in 1969. Bass player Bob Dames, formerly with the Purple Hearts, also played in Bulldog. In the late 1970s, Rogers returned to London and joined Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.
Buster Brown, a pub band which headlined the Sunbury Festival in 1974, had Geordie Leach on bass. Angry Anderson, Buster Brown’s lead singer, later joined Rose Tattoo, one of Australia’s most successful hard rock pub bands. The Tatts’ self-titled debut album was produced by Vanda & Young and featured the aggressive rock of Bad Boy for Love.
Broderick Smith, vocalist and harmonica playing lead singer of the blues group Carson (Travelling South) played Sunbury in 1973. He formed the Adderley Smith Blues Band, later establishing the Dingoes (Way Out West), and the Broderick Smith Big Band. Smith also contributed lead vocals to the Tamam Shud song First Things First, which featured on the film soundtrack of legendary Aussie surf movie, Morning of the Earth in 1973. Smith supported Joe Cocker on the latter’s 1993 tour of Australia.
Mal Capewell, the British-born saxophonist with Carson, later played with Co Caine, eventually returning to Britain to play with Graham Bond’s Holy Magick.
Love is Everywhere
British-born artists also contributed to the folk/bush music revival in Australia.
The Bushwackers, a traditional Aussie bush/folk band with electronic instrumentation, had Peter Farndon on bass who later joined the British new wave band the Pretenders in 1978. Roger Corbett, bass and vocals and Tony Hunt on fiddle were two other Brits who featured in other line-ups of this popular bush band which continued into the 1980s.
Eric Bogle, the Scots-born songwriter artist, produced the definitive version of Waltzing Matilda, singing emotively of the horrors of war.
British musicians and singers also produced a significant layer of teenybopper music in the 1970s.
Sherbet, a teenybopper band, comprised Englishman Clive Shakespeare on lead guitar. The original Sherbet lead singer, Dennis Laughlin, had run the Union Jack disco in Sydney. Shakespeare and fellow band member Garth Porter penned the group’s most popular hits Slipstream in 1974 and Summer Love in 1975.
John Paul Young, another Glaswegian, sang the melodic Yesterday’s Hero and Love is In the Air (1978), later to be revived and featured in the Aussie movie Ballroom Dancing.
Ted Mulry as a solo performer had hits with Falling In Love Again in 1971 and I Won’t Look Back in 1972. He formed the Ted Mulry Gang in 1975, from former members of Velvet Underground, a popular dance band in Newcastle, which had included Malcolm Young (later of AC/DC fame). Mulry’s big hit Jump In My Car (1975) featured 12 bar guitar riffs and tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
Air Supply, with the English-born Graham Russell as singer-songwriter produced a procession of love songs of which the most memorable was All Out Of Love in 1980. Russell was truly in love with the word “Love” as it featured prominently in most of the group’s song titles: Love and Other Bruises 1976; Lost In Love 1979; Young Love 1982. The group had substantial international success throughout the 1970s, particularly in America.
Hard Rock – The Screaming Meanies
The streets of Elizabeth once more resounded to the British beat in the 1970s, although this time the sound was meaner and more intense than ever before.
Cold Chisel was formed in Elizabeth, the British migrant suburb of Adelaide and headlined at the Largs Pier Hotel, a tough working-class pub, whose foundations the band’s thumping sounds regularly rocked. Band manager Rod Willis recalled one band gig: “I’d seen some pretty rough gigs in my time but nothing prepared me for this. It was f… scary. The place was packed with bikies and thugs (and) I was terrified. There were fights everywhere … I’d never seen such overindulgence in alcohol.” Barnes’ specialty of tossing half-full beer cans into the crowd further fuelled the atmosphere of potential riot at each gig.
Boosted by alcohol and speed, the powerful voice of lead singer Jimmy Barnes (James Swan) and drummer Steve Prestwich (a mod from Liverpool) produced a number of iconic Aussie rock songs of the 1970s and 1980s. Barnes was at his best belting out hits like Star Hotel 1980 and Khe Sanh 1978 and the bittersweet ballad about King’s Cross, Breakfast at Sweethearts in 1979.
After going solo, Barnes produced the unforgettable ode to his upbringing in Elizabeth, Working Class Man, in 1980.
John Swan the Glasgow-born older brother of Jimmy Barnes, was also from Elizabeth and formed his own band, the Hard Time Killing Floor in 1971. Swan replaced Bon Scott as lead singer in the rock band Fraternity and subsequently formed another band, called Swanee. His rock hit, The Road Keeps Moving Sideways, captured the sensation most people experience after a hard night’s rock and roll. Over a decade later, John Swan became the lead singer of the Party Boys, and had hits in 1987 with the heavy rhythmic rockers He’s Gonna Step on You Again, Hold Your head Up and a belting version of Them’s Gloria. Joe Walsh, the Eagles’ guitarist, later played with the Party Boys. The band supported AC/DC on their 1988 Australian tour. In 1989, the British blues legend Eric Burdon briefly became the band’s lead singer.
The Brewster brothers formed a key part of the Adelaide band The Angels in 1974. In an earlier guise, the band had appeared as the Moonshine Jug and String Band. The Angels produced the memorable singles Take a Long Line in 1978 and Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again. The latter, a Vanda/Young production, was originally released in 1976, with a more offensive version, with the predictably explicit answer to the chorus question, emerging in 1979. The band supported David Bowie on his Australian tour in 1978.
The Little River Band with Glenn Shorrock as lead singer achieved international success in 1977 with the album Diamantina Cocktail. Hit singles from that album included Help is On Its Way and Home in the Morning. Reminiscing followed in 1978.
Who Can It Be Now?
Bands of the 1980s & 1990s
The creativity of British-born singers and songwriters continued unabated in the 1980s.
British-born vocalist Grace Knight, was a singer with the Perth band Eurogliders, recording Without You in 1982 and later, in Britain, the national hit Heaven (Must Be There) in 1984. Knight transformed into a reputable and successful jazz singer, best known for her soundtrack recording of the TV mini-series, Come In Spinner in 1990 and her popular collaboration with Vince Jones, Stormy Weather in 1991.
Ambient band Dead Can Dance with Brendan Perry from Northern Ireland produced “world music”, including a fusion of Gaelic folk, Gregorian chants and Middle Eastern sounds. The band produced two well-received albums Serpent’s Egg and Aion, and had international acclaim with Into the Labyrinth, which sold 500,000 copies in 1993.
The symphonic rock of Aragon, featuring the Scot Les Dougan, drew its inspiration from UK bands like Genesis. Their album Don’t Bring the Rain (1988), while virtually ignored in Australia, was hailed by European and British underground music press as a masterpiece.
Men at Work featured Colin Hay, the Scots-born singer-songwriter. The band played at the Cricketers’ Arms Hotel, in Punt Rd, near the sacred turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Men at Work’s greatest songs include Who Can it be Now? and the anthemic (I Come from the Land) Down Under with the eerily familiar themes of Vegemite sandwiches and men chundering. Down Under became the unofficial theme song of Alan Bond’s America’s Cup syndicate challenge and is still a ‘national pride’ song of note.
Men At Work’s debut album, Business As Usual, sold a staggering 10 million copies worldwide. The album secured bragging rights as the longest-running number one debut album in the US charts, shattering the Monkees previous record. Like the Beatles in the 1960s, Men At Work leveraged successfully off the fame and familiarity generated by MTV programs, which often featured the quirky antics of the band. Men At Work had further success with the Cargo album, released in 1983.
Colin Hay went on to produce a solo album Wayfaring Sons in 1990, drawing on his Scots Celtic folk roots.
The Church featured Steve Kilbey and Mart Wilson-Piper from Liverpool, performing jangle Byrds-style guitar riffs. They produced Too Fast for You, When you were Mine, and Under the Milky Way. The band toured the UK and its Starfish album sold over 600,000 copies in the USA. Kilbey had co-written Under the Milky Way (1988) with Karin Jansson, a Swedish artist, who established a band Curious (Yellow), named after the famous Swedish movie. Kilbey later also produced her band’s album in 1990. Steve Kilbey went on to produce albums for other singers, most notably Steve Cummings’ album, Falling Swinger, in 1994
Steve’s younger brother, Russell Kilbey, was the lead vocalist with the Crystal Set in the 1980s, producing She Spits Out Stars (1990). Russell later played with another brother, John Kilbey, in Warp 9 (Five days in a photon belt).
Savage Garden, with English-born Daniel Johns, joined Darren Hayes in a songwriting partnership in 1994 which resulted in international success with To the Moon and Back in 1996 and Truly Madly Deeply in 1997.
An Enduring Legacy
In popular music, every year brings new songs and temporary musical fads.
The music generated by those British-born musicians and singers and British-influenced bands of the 1960s however will retain appeal as classic masterpieces produced by an energetic, creative wave, propelled by the influence of swinging Britain.
These artists’ contributions have produced a lasting legacy – a pioneering Australian sound with an undeniable British intonation.