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.

aust day

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

 

 

The Inn of Six Degrees of Separation

Six degrees of separation between Dr Barnardo and John Travolta.

  1. Thomas John Barnardo was an Irish philanthropist. DrbarnardoWhile training as a doctor in London in the 1860s, he became aware of the miserable plight of the many homeless children in the city’s slums. He established the first of “Dr Barnardo’s Homes” for children in that city in 1867. Providing housing and education for poor and disadvantaged children became Barnardo’s life’s work, and he gave up his original ambition to be a missionary in China.
  2. Someone who did go to China as a missionary was Gladys Aylward, who was an Englishwoman of strong Christian faith. She was in China in the chaotic Inn_Of_Sixth_Happyears leading up to the Second World War, where she did a lot of brave and humane things. Her experiences were the basis for a novel by Alan Burgess, called The Small Woman. In 1958, this novel was turned into a film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. The film, which was a huge success, ends with Aylward leading a group of dozens of Chinese children to safety, evading Japanese soldiers. While they march, the children sing “This Old Man” …
  3. Which was a children’s counting song with a nonsense chorus, the first written version of which dates from 1870, but which is certainly much older than that. The chorus goes:

With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home

The song is now universally known, but had been relatively obscure until used in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, the soundtrack to which was a huge hit.

  1. Taking advantage of this popularity, Dr Barnardo’s Homes – by this time the most important charity caring for children in the United Kingdom and many other parts of the former British Empire, released a fundraising record, with some Barnardo’s children singing, and an orchestral backing provided by …0076 label
  2. Bill Shepherd, who was a well-known British bandleader and arranger. As you will hear, he was good: he takes a playground chant and using rich instrumentation and what was, for 1958, complex mixing creates something exciting. Bill Shepherd later spent a few years living in Australia, where he became a director of Festival Records and throughBGs that company met a young band called the Bee Gees. Shepherd liked the Gibb brothers’ work, and became their orchestral arranger. Throughout the late sixties, his arrangements were an integral part in the Bee Gees becoming an international success. His association with them ended in 1972, which meant that he missed out on being involved in producing the staggeringly successful 1977 soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever
  3. Starring John Travolta.SNF

 

  • Artist: Dr Barnardo’s Children and the Bill Shepherd Orchestra
  • Single Title: This Old Man (Nick Nack Paddy Whack) / The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness
  • Track: Side A “This Old Man (Nick Nack Paddy Whack)”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Pye Nixa 7N.15180
  • Manufactured in: England
  • Year: 1958

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