Sunday, April 30, 2017

Talking Australian: Surfies, Roof Racks, the Stomp and Uggs

By the 1960s Australians had embraced town living and for the affluent middle class leisure was an integral part of their life style. The beach was regarded as an Australian treasure and advertisers wasted no time emphasising the suntanned, healthy, handsome beauties you might find there. Life was for the living or so the advertising copy went and blue skies, sunshine and sandy beaches were emblems of the good life in the Lucky Country.

In truth despite being the biggest island in the world where some of the best beaches can be found, Australia was then, and now a nation of people who mostly can’t swim. The nasty stingy things and fish that bite kept most people out of the water with sea swimming banned during daylight hours. So back in the 19th century the lure of the waves attracted only dare devil types who wanted to flaunt the rules and play in the waves. By 1903 beach bathing became legal and after numerous accidental drowning the new beach savers clubs were formed. Wave larrikins and life savers became sworn enemies.

Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku came to Australia in 1914 and brought with him his long surf board. His magnificence on the waves captured the imagination of the beach crowd who naturally wanted to acquire the same skills. Who could afford to spend time perfecting surfing were the well off and the beach culture then was a middle class preoccupation.

The first Australian (long) board riding champion was Claude West (1924), a few years later Australian surfers participated in the 1939 Pacific Games in Hawaii. The sport got a real injection when in the mid-fifties the US Lifeguard team touring Australia demonstrated smaller surfboards which allowed surfers to turn and manoeuvre. Not long after an Australian invented the roof rack. Surfing became a cult and like Rock’n’Roll, everything from the US (the epi-enter of surfing) was copied exactly.

Surfing had its own codes and the best surfers got the best beaches and the best girls (beach bunnies/babes or surfie chicks). The best beaches were often near or adjacent to the better living areas and these were jealously guarded (and still are). Surfing became a male preserve and unwanted visitors to prime surfing areas (cockroaches) were frequently threatened with physical violence. The new Rockers (mainly working-class kids) took a serious dislike to surfers and the ensuing rumbles in the sand were legend.

By the time of the Vietnam War (1962), more kids were tuning in and dropping out and beach communes became very much part of the counter culture with sex drugs and rock’n’ roll the mantra. Surfers now came from all walks of life and were generally bound by their intense love of the sport. Gradually the surf culture changed for the good as the sport grew and more success came in surfing championships. Whilst the language of surf is mainly American there are some Australian terms which have slipped into the lexicon. Bombora, of course describes a big wave isolated by deep water and breaking over submerged rocks (sometimes called a bombie or cloudbreak). If a sole surfer managed to ride that tube (inside formation of the wave) then he would be well stoked (delighted). A new surfer (jake or grommet) to the club (a cubbie) might problems to others on the surf and would be called a Barney. All in the sea have eyes are ever vigilant for Noah, (rhyming slang Noah's ark) a shark.

Somewhere along the line a group of entrepreneurial Australian surfers began backyard businesses making wetsuits, surf gear and board shorts. Soon Australian cottage industries like Quicksilver (1969), Billabong (1973), and Rip Curl had become household names quoted on the stock market.

A couple of jackeroos from Victoria and working here in WA crafted a pair of makeshift sheepskin boots with linoleum soles and used them to keep the feet warm on cold mornings. Slowly but surely UGG Boots became the footwear of choice across the surf crowd in the Big Brown land. They were taken to the US and became a worldwide sensation.

Australian surf culture had its own surf music with the best known example The Atlantics’ Bombora (1963).

Not only that it had its own dance craze called the Stomp.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Talking Australian: History of Australian Rock:Part Three

The early 70s (1970 to 1975) was a fertile period in Australian Rock history with veteran rockers and new performers joining in new formations to develop a more mature, progressive and distinctively Australian rock style. Some acts were successful within Australia and others with considerable international success. Australian music is often distinguished from the rock styles of other nations by its focus on melody and complex rhythms usually accompanied with humorous lyrics which were dry and often self-deprecating. Skyhooks were the first to write songs in Australia, by Australians, about Australia, and make money doing it. The Melbourne band formed in 1973 and considered themselves counter to glam rock. Skyhooks were ostensibly pre-punk rockers that revelled in camp costumes, lyrics, and on-stage activities that would shock. More importantly lyrist, Greg Macainsh wrote commercial songs about contemporary young Australians. Their first album, Living in the Seventies, rocketed to the top of the charts and stayed there for so long it became the bestselling Australian album up until that time. This was despite seven of the ten album tracks were banned by Australian commercial radio. Compare the glam rock of Skyhooks to the UK's Sweet.

Until 1975, all commercial pop radio in Australia was broadcast on the AM band, in mono. Unless pop songs were three minutes long and contained no contentious or suggestive lyrics then they were just ignored and that meant many talented acts went unnoticed. The most commercially successful new wave band was Sydney’s Sherbet (a.k.a. The Sherbs and Highway) who formed in 1969. They were the first Australian band to reach $1M in record sales and scored a couple of Australian number ones. They started as a soul band doing Motown covers before Daryl Braithwaite joined them in 1970. After they won Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds in 1971 and a few line-up changes, Sherbet became an upfront pop band who wrote many of their hits and toured Australia often to the remotest regions. They had one international hit “Hozwat” in 1976 but in 1975 their first Australian hit was ‘Summer love’ when they were an Australian teen sensation.

Meanwhile elsewhere the world had gone mad for five lads dressed in plaid.

By the seventies national popularity was encouraged through of a variety of means. The traditional dance hall and disco were dead and much more reliance was placed upon the media to convey popular music. Changes to broadcasting meant the introduction of Double Jay to FM radio. The Go-set magazine had been introduced in 1966 as the first Australian Rock Magazine.

Founded in Melbourne by a couple of university students and aimed at a teenage audience and was soon distributed to other states. A popular feature was a centre page spread called The Scene which featured a ‘what’s on,’ this became compulsive reading for acts and their fans alike.

Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum wrote a weekly column for Go-Set until its demise in 1974. The introduction of colour television and Countdown had a phenomenal effect, gaining a huge audience which soon exerted a strong influence on radio programmers, because it was broadcast nationwide on Australia's government-owned broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Countdown was certainly influential in the rise of many Australian acts including Little River Band. Little River Band was formed in 1975 in Melbourne, Australia. The first formation of the band included Glenn Shorrock, lead vocals, Beeb Birtles, guitar and vocals, Graeham Goble, guitar and vocals, Derek Pellicci, drums, Roger McLachlan, bass, Rick Formosa, lead guitar. The band were made up of set consummate musicians with a definite soul background and started to produce some funky music. By comparison the Average White Band was Scottish and came out with similar music to Little River Band both could easily have been mistaken for USA bands. Make up your own mind as we play Little River Band, Average White Band with Steely Dan.

The Sunbury music festival which started in 1972 gave rise to a newer generation of tough, uncompromising, adult-oriented rock bands which was continued in the popular in the pub circuit, which followed in the latter part of the decade.

Festivals meant big sound bands could get rocking and there was no bigger band than ACDC. They were formed in 1973 by guitarist, Malcolm Young (Velvet Underground) after his band collapsed. He joined forces with his younger brother Angus (lead guitarist), and Dave Evans (singer), and they played around Sydney. They recorded “Can I sit next to you” which was produced by Harry Vanda (Easybeats) and older brother George Young (Easybeats) but it failed to raise much interest.

Phil Rudd (Coloured Balls) and Mark Evans (bass) joined the group when they moved to Melbourne. Bon Scott (Fraternity and The Valentines) was the drummer and driver and had much more experience in the business than the rest of the lads. When Dave took stage fright, Bon stepped in as lead singer, and when Dave left the band in 1977, Cliff Williams took his place. Bon Scott eventually took over and they were on their way to the top.

When Scott died in 1980 he was replaced by front man Brian Johnson (Geordie) and ACDC went on to became arguably the greatest and certainly the more enduring Rock'n'Roll band in the world.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Talking Austraian: History of Australian Rock:Part Two

The availability of US electric guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computer but then, thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The single greatest influence came from a specky, geek from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK called Hank B Marvin. Although there had been many singer guitarists before him, he was the very first young non-American, guitar hero in rock’n’roll.

His playing style and the Shadows music gave inspiration to countless young musicians across the Commonwealth. Local dance bands in Australia and New Zealand played a wider variety of musical styles and musicians would have hundreds of songs in their repertoire. This included popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties as well as the very latest tunes. Many were from jazz, influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy.

Notable alternatives to the mainstream pop emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne). Many of these bands later evolved into top Australian groups of the next decade, by merely adding a lead singer. (The Atlantics and Johnny Reb). The most successful of the Australian surf groups was The Atlantics who wrote their own material and scored an international hit with Bombora (1963).

Many people thought The Atlantics were an American band which actually was an advantage since deejays have confessed that if they had known they were Australian they would not have played their records. No matter, The Atlantics became the first international rock act from Australia. Their success mirrored Slim Dusty who scored an international hit with Pub with no beer, in 1959.

The Atlantics shared the international spotlight with other young Australian artists. Frank Ifield (country balladeer) and Rolf Harris (Australiana). In the UK, Frank epitomized the all Australian male, a handsome new age guy that could yodel; and Rolf, the quirky Australian artisan that could capture the public attention with his good humoured novelty and artistic originality.

All had a place in the pop charts and all three enjoyed international stardom. The most collectable Beatles’ album is a compilation with Frank Ifield called Jolly What! England's Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage, it was released by Vee-Jay Records on limited edition in the US in 1964.

At the time Frank was more bankable star than the Fab Four.

Sun arise, which I rate as one of the best Australian songs from the 60s was orchestrated by Johnnie Spence and produced by (Sir) George Martin. Rolf could not play the didgeridoo nor was there a player in England at the time so the didgeridoo sound was simulated by eight bass fiddles.

If longevity is a mark of success and originality these three pioneers are perfect examples, because they are with the exception of the disgraced Rolf Harris, still performing and recording.

Back in Australia several things were happening which would influence the music, yet to come? The Second World War had brought strong bonds with the US with thousands of military personnel stationed in Australia and New Zealand. Regular troop movements meant entertaining the boys when they were on shore leave. The home base situation continued long after the end of the war, into the cold war, with agreements such as ANZUS (1951), the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), 1954, the Antarctic Agreement (1961), and the Vietnam War. With virtual occupation status, local musicians forged music to suit and naturally absorbed popular stylistic influences such as Motown, soul music and funk genres into their live club performances.

It is impossible to consider Australian rock without reference to New Zealand and to acknowledge the role of New Zealand musicians have played in the development of art form. Many jazz and rock musicians came through exactly the same experiences in the Land of the Long White Cloud (especially Christchurch) before they made the journey across the Tasman Sea to become established acts in Australia. Examples include Max Merrit and Dinah Lee.

By the time the Mersey sound had arrived (many of the English beat groups were veterans of the German Club scene) local Australasian musicians were in complete sympathy with contemporary pop mod culture. A quarter of a million British born migrants arrived in Australia in the late fifties and early sixties most of which settled in the east with many in Adelaide. By contrast the 17, 412 American born, new Australians preferred Victoria. The more recent arrivals had just come from seeing the Stones, The Who, and the Beatles so their influence on Australian bands was immense. Once Australian artists started to write their own material bands like the Easybeats with song writers, Stevie Wright, Harry Vanda and George Young became the first Australian band to consistently top the charts with their own compositions.

Inspiration to others like Johnny Young from Perth saw the window of opportunity and were soon knocking their own Australia pop tunes.

Despite their immense success the Easybeats enjoyed in Australia they had only moderate success overseas. The same cannot be said for the Seekers and arguably the most successful of all Australian exports in the 60s, the Bee Gees.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talking Australian: History of Australian Rock: Part One

Rock and roll (rock 'n' roll) originated in the United States in the late 40s and spread to the rest of the world during the following decade. As a musical genre it was a hybrid cross-over of blues and country and became rockabilly, with Sun Records in Memphis, the centre of the movement. In truth Rock’n’roll was a systematic sanitization of black music (R&B) for an appreciative young white audience.

Rock’n’roll had long been an African-American euphemism for sex but when DJ Alan Freed used the term to describe a music genre, the term stuck. The fast beat with double entendres in lyrics only endeared itself further to the hearts of the baby boomers, keen to shed the doldrums of the post war period. As Jazz was to the Flappers, Rock’n’Roll was to the 50s teenagers. The music’s secret was in its rhythm, which was basically a boogie woogie blues rhythm (8 beats to a bar, and are 12-bar blues) with an accentuated back beat, almost always on snare drum. In the earliest forms of rock and roll, which date to the late 1940s, the piano was the lead instrument (Fats Domino "The Fat man" -1949/1950), but by the early fifties, the saxophone had taken over as lead, and eventually this was replaced in turn by the lead guitar.

By the late fifties rock and roll groups consisted of two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), an electric bass guitar (which replaced the double bass) , and a drum kit. In most people’s minds Bill Haley’s Rock around the clock was the beginning of the movement, but honours should go to “Crazy Man, Crazy" which first hit the American charts in 1953.

The follow up was a cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," became the first ever rock'n'roll song to enter the British singles charts in December 1954.

"Rock Around the Clock" was recorded in 1954 but did little until it appeared a year later behind the opening credits of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford. The film did not show in Australian cinemas until 1956 and the single was the first released by Festival Records. Needless to say it became the biggest-selling record in Australian history (150,000 copies).

Keen to cash in on Haley’s popularity there was a follow up film showing Bill Haley in concert which included footage of the crowd hysteria that accompanied his live performances. It was this that gave Australian kids the lead and like every other teenager across the Western World, they jived in the aisles and ripped up the seats.

Now inspired to play the music, legions of copyist sprung up everywhere, playing in the suburbs across Australia and thrilling local revellers in the dance halls. The first Australian rock’n’roll record was Frankie Davidson’s “Rock-a Beat’n’ Boogie (a Haley composition) which sold reasonably well although it was generally dismissed as a novelty record.

In the US racial tensions had surfaced with African Americans protesting against segregation, but in Australia that 'race' connection meant nothing. Instead the development of a teenage culture widened the Generation Gap between kids and their parents and young Australians broke their shackles with the Old Country, following the new American heroes of Haley, Presley and Little Richard. Every Australian city developed its own local heroes but that is where they would have remained because distances were too great. Teenagers listened to the jukeboxes in milk bars and were trained to their transistor hoping to catch maverick radio presenters like Stan Rife (Melbourne) and John Laws (Sydney), spinning the latest releases from overseas.

All that changed with Johnny O’Keefe who was inspired by Bill Haley, gave up a retail career to bop. Johnnie O'Keefe and the 'Dee Jays' released a Bill Haley song You Hit the Wrong Note Billy Goat in 1957, which was beginning of Australian home grown Rock’n’roll.

Keen to catch the new trend of teenage entertainment Channel Nine launched an Australian version of American Bandstand in 1958, compared by Brian Henderson and a year later, 1959 ABCs "Six O'Clock Rock" went to air with Johnny O’Keefe, at first a regular contributor before becoming the resident host.

This was based on BBCs “Six Five Special.” More often than not in Australia the actual artists were not always available to appear which gave local talent the opportunity to perform cover versions or mime to the latest hits. Popular Australian acts which whipped up excitement included Lonnie Lee & The Leemen, Dig Richards & The R'Jays, Alan Dale & The Houserockers, Ray Hoff & The Offbeats, Digger Revell & The Denvermen and New Zealand's Johnny Devlin & The Devils.

Col Joye and the Joy Boys was the star feature on Australia's Bandstand TV Show and Johnny O’Keefe’s nemesis.

Col’s style was more country than rocker but did reasonable cover versions before eventually writing his own material with progressively more chart success than Johnny O’Keefe. Lee Gordon was a North American millionaire and music promoter who came to Australia in the early 1954. He set up a circuit of venues across the Big Brown Land using open air stadium previously used for boxing promotions. Initially he had brought big name artists like Sinatra, Johnny Ray and Frankie Lane to sing but in 1957, Gordon’s Big (Bog) Show, included Bill Haley and the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly.

At first he showed no interest in local talent and although Johnny O’Keefe wangled his way into the show the impresario remained ambivalent. Then when Gene Vincent was delayed in transit Gordon was forced to replace him with Johnny O’Keefe, ‘The Wild One” put on the show of his life and won the crowd over and impressed the impresario so much, he became his manager.

From then onwards the Australian packages had the famous and not so famous, side by side. Sharing the bill with Gene Vincent was Little Richard who wowed the audience, but after seeing a sputnik, thought he had a signal from God and relinquished all his worldly goods to take up religion.

Touring dance bands in Australia and New Zealand carried a much bigger repertoire than most and were as likely to need to play the popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, as they would the latest tunes. This made Australasian musicians very accomplished with many from a jazz background. Some were influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy.

A notable alternative to the mainstream pop fare emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne).

Many of these instrumental groups survived into the Beatles era by adding a lead singer, and several evolved into some of the top bands of the next decade. Without doubt the introduction of the electric guitar and availability of US guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computers, but then, the nerds thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The greatest influence in the next phase of Australia rock came from an unlikely source, a specky geek from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, with the unlikely name of, Hank B. Marvin (Brian Robson Rankin).