First Australian country singer on the Moon

Reg Lindsay was one of the giants of Australian country music. Unlike a great many country singers, in his day, he was a real stockman (which is what we call a cowboy, in these here parts). He only thought about a musical career after being injured while riding a bull at a rodeo. While convalescing, he spent a lot of time listening to country music on the radio, and was inspired to enter a talent contest. Some successful recordings won him a radio show, and later a television program, and in the 1950s and 1960s he became the face of country in Australia.

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Image: Curly Fraser (State Library of New South Wales), via Wikimedia Commons

In my country, “country” means, first and foremost, Slim Dusty. Reg Lindsay was his contemporary, semi-rival, and brother-in-law (their wives were sisters). Reg was, no getting around it, by far the better singer of the two. Yet Slim’s Aussie twang and his songs of the outback are remembered and loved, while Reg’s smoother baritone is increasingly forgotten.

This should not diminish Reg Lindsay’s achievement. His best-known song was “Armstrong”, about the Lunar landings. Not the most obvious theme for a country singer, but appropriate in a way. Reg Lindsay was the first Australian artist to perform at the Grand Ol’ Oprey, in 1968, and is now honoured with a plaque on Nashville’s “Walkway of Stars”. Such recognition, to a stockman listening to country radio while recovering from a rodeo accident, would have been unimaginable.

Lindsay was a pioneer, first Australian country singer on the Moon.

Here he is on a much more down-home, ordinary-life, country-music-staple theme. Hello blues!

  • Artist: Reg Lindsay
  • Album: Country Music Comes To Town
  • Track: A1 “Hello Blues”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: EMI
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: OEX-9647
  • Year: Unknown (mid-1960s?)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

Brisbane boys, briefly

It is our national day, here in Australia. Imaginatively called “Australia Day”, 26 January is the anniversary of the proclamation of a British penal colony, New South Wales, in 1788. The date is becoming increasingly contested. Indigenous people resent it, calling it “Invasion Day”. There are more prosaic reasons for wanting a change. Australia is a federation of states, of which NSW (though the oldest, largest, richest and most powerful) is only one. The presumption “NSW = Australia” is simple common sense in NSW but it annoys the rest of us mightily.

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All class, Australia Day is. Image: Adelaide Now

So, the date is becoming a battle in the culture wars. The odd thing is that until twenty years ago, no one really cared much about Australia Day. It was a a public holiday like Labour Day and the Queen’s Birthday: a welcome day off, but otherwise something about which people knew little and cared less.

Me, I am not big on flag-waving. I love my country, but my country drives me mad. I am a proud Australian, but often Australia makes me sick with shame. I imagine that this is pretty much how every thinking person feels about their homeland. Still, it seems appropriate to mark Australia Day with something Australian. Well, kinda Australian.

The brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb were born on the Isle of Man. In the late 1950s, the family migrated to Australia. It was in Brisbane that the brothers Gibb began performing as the Bee Gees, and it was here that they had their first hit, “Spicks and Specks”, in 1966.

The Gibb boys are best remembered for their 1970s disco period, but they were more of a soft rock band before then. And they were good, they really were. Lovely tight harmonies, excellent song-crafting, polished arrangements. The lyrics, not so strong. But still, this disc from their pre-disco era stands up well. “Mr. Natural” didn’t chart anywhere much except Australia, and this track, the B-side, never even made it onto an album – but it is a good pop song.

Okay, let’s face facts. In 1967, which is to say as soon as they possibly could, the Bee Gees returned to the UK. But for a decade or so, these Manx-born Britons who went on to become one of the most successful pop bands in recording history, lived in suburban Brisbane. Does this make them Australian? As Australian as many other things we claim in these parts. It doesn’t matter much to me.

  • Artist: Bee Gees
  • A Side: Mr. Natural
  • B Side: It Doesn’t Matter Much To Me
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Spin
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: K-5492
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

One minute to midnight

We make a bit of a hash of New Year’s Eve in Australia. There is a tradition that on this night, you go out, drink heavily, and watch fireworks. No different to many places, I know, but here in the southern hemisphere, it is high summer. The day is often hot, and lots of people will be sun-struck and shicker well before sundown. So when the crowds gather, there is often a nasty edge in the air.

Events are managed better now than they used to be, and drunken brawls are not such a fixture, but even so – an over-rated festival, methinks. Perhaps reflecting this, there is nothing like the number of songs celebrating New Year’s Eve as there are for Christmas. There is “Auld Lang Syne”, my dear, but not a huge deal else.

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Image: Movpins

Here is one exception. Like “White Christmas”, Bing Crosby performed “Let’s Start the New Year Right” in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. It is a tight Irving Berlin number, smoothly performed by Bing and the John Scott Trotter orchestra. Flimflam, in truth, but pleasant, and there is a place for that. Happy New Year!

 

  • Artist: Bing Crosby
  • EP Title: White Christmas
  • Track: A2 “Let’s Start the New Year Right”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Festival
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DX-10,212
  • Year: 1961 (original release 1943)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

A very merry Christmas and a whacko dinner

It is 1952, getting towards Christmas. You live on a homestead, in rural Australia, and one of your family is away. Young Pauline has followed in the path of many Australians and sailed for England. The tyranny of distance is alive and well in this period. Television broadcasting won’t begin for years yet. Long distance telephone calls – for those who have telephones and many don’t – are awful: the sound garbled and the cost, in three minute blocks, ridiculous. So you won’t be hearing Pauline’s voice this Christmas.

B 201701 labelBut wait! What is this in the mail? It’s a gramophone record, an acetate – it has the familiar HMV label, but there is a message from Pauline, hand-written. Quick, everyone! Gather round the gramophone. Pauline sent this – what on earth can it be?

I am indebted to Bart Ziino, a friend and fellow record tragic for sharing this disc. Bart is an historian, and observed:

That really is a document of its time.  I wonder how far in advance she prepared it?  Enough time to go by ship, or sent by air?  I wonder what she was doing in London? My mum used to say ‘whacko’ as a good thing too. I wonder who else thought gladioli were the best flowers …

There is a rich human story behind every minute of recorded sound.

  • Artist: Pauline [surname unknown]
  • A Side: “Merry Christmas, love Pauline, xxx”
  • Format: 8”, 78 rpm, acetate, mono
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Made in: England
  • Catalogue: Special recording
  • Year: 1952

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Our Glad

She was HUGE. Her first name all you needed. That was her, the famous singer, the Australian girl who had gone to England and become a star.

It was the 1930s, when Australia was self-consciously claiming its place in the world. We loved an international champion. There was our great aviator, Charles Kingsford-Smith; our great cricketer, Don Bradman; our great racehorse, Pharlap. And there was “Our Glad”.

Who? Her star has faded, but Gladys Moncrieff, “Australia’s Queen of Song” was the Kylie Minogue of her day. Born in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 1892, she became the top leading lady in Australian musical theatre. A critic wrote of an early performance:

It was good to hear a crowded Australian audience acclaim the success of a slim, straight young Australian girl … It was a personal triumph in which hard work, talent and youth bore fine fruit.

By the mid-1920 she was earning 150 pounds a week, making her the highest paid entertainer in Australia. In 1926 she sailed to England, and after a few false starts again broke through: “Before the night concluded” wrote a reviewer, “even the dullest critic must have realized that a new star of amazing brilliance had climbed above London’s theatrical horizon”.

old spinning wheelShe also recorded nearly 100 gramophone records, and was the first Australian artist to regularly outsell recordings from abroad. This is one, her version of “The Old Spinning Wheel”, written by the great American songwriter Billy Hill.

She could really sing, our Glad.

 

  • Artist: Gladys Moncrieff with orchestra Conducted by Gil Dech
  • A side: The Old Spinning Wheel
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Regal Zonophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: G22098
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1934)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

The Deadly Hume

Highway 31 runs between Australia’s two biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney. The Hume Highway, it is also called, and there is not a lot of love out there for it. It used to be both boring and dangerous, especially on the New South Wales side of the border.  There was even a rock band named after it: The Deadly Hume. These days it is well-made dual-carriageway the whole distance: still boring, but safer.

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Only 800-odd Ks to Sydney …  some locals have added welcoming bullet holes to the sign.

Back in 1969, though, it was still possible to conjure some romance from Highway 31, and this is what Johnny Chester did. I recently sold some of Chester’s records to a man in Western Australia. Not knowing much about the artist, I asked about the buyer’s interest. It was a lovely reply:

I have known him all of my life but not so much in recent years since we moved over here to WA (used to live in Vic). He’s a great guy (very modest), his career started out back in the late 50s. He sang rock & roll back then which then morphed into the pop scene in the early ’60s. He toured Oz with the Beatles when they came out. In the late 60s he got into country music. He’s in his 70s now. I picked up some of his old sheet music just for a keepsake. Then of course I started to think about getting some of his old 45’s and here we are today!

This is Johnny Chester’s take on the Deadly Hume, a sort-of up-tempo Australian version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, in which a man leaves his lover and puts miles and place names between them. No great pretension, but it rocks along, features some nice guitar, and is good fun.

  • Artist: Johnny Chester
  • Single Title: I Just Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye
  • Side B “Highway 31”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Philips
  • Catalogue: BF-456
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

After the movie finished

Australia and America have been close friends for a long time. It dates back to the Second World War, when Australia found itself facing a Japanese invasion. Traditionally, Australia had looked to Britain for protection. But Britain was in a desperate struggle for survival herself, and unable to help. So on 27 December 1941 the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, made one of those this-changes-everything speeches:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

One result was a huge influx of US servicemen. At the peak, some quarter-of-a-million Americans were based here.

IMG_2240 (002)This gramophone record is an artifact of this period. Specially made, it has the same track on both sides. It was not allowed to be broadcast, and was played many, many times – note the wear around the central hole. And the music? An unknown brass band plays the first few bars of God Save the King (which was then the Australian national anthem), segueing into John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.

I think that this strange record was played at cinemas inside American military bases. In those days, it was routine for the national anthem to be played after a film had finished. The first section is a polite nod to the host country, before they launch into America’s national march – which, it must be said, is far and away the better tune.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Title: God Save the King followed by Stars and Stripes, march
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: Special Record No. 1
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1942?)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs