Collecting Caribbean Records in Australia Pt 2: Reggae of the 1960s and 1970s

Reggae music emerged from Jamaica in the late 1960s and quickly gained popularity in countries with large Caribbean diasporas and strong cultural connections like the U.S.A and the U.K. However, widespread appreciation of reggae took a little longer to develop in Australia. Despite flirtations with Caribbean music, in 1957 during the calypso boom and again in 1964 with ska, Australian record companies were conservative about what they chose to release and when they made it available. Most of the early releases were issued by established artists like Johnny Nash, or acts who were achieving significant international sales like Desmond Dekker. It was possible to access a wider range of reggae, rocksteady and ska records in the early 1970s but only via import through specialist stores or mailorder from overseas. Not until the mid 1970s did Australian record buyers begin to see a variety of locally pressed reggae records in their stores. This is a look at some of the locally pressed reggae records that were available in Australia during that decade between 1968 and 1979.

Johnny Nash was perhaps the first artist to release songs with a reggae feel to Australian audiences. Nash was an American teenage recording star who had set up his own music label in 1964. He was interested in recording in Jamaica and in 1968 he released Hold Me Tight which was cut in Kingston. The single was top 5 in the U.S, U.K and Canadian charts and got a release on the Festival label in Australia in October 1968.

Nash followed it up early in 1969 with another reggae styled track You Got Soul. It’s worth noting that during the late 1960s and early 1970s Johnny Nash worked closely with Bob Marley and the Wailers. Marley wrote several songs for the 1972 Johnny Nash LP that featured the international hit I Can See Clearly Now, which also played an important part in bringing reggae to an international audience. In fact, the first single from that LP released in Australia was Nash’s version of Stir It Up. Nash also included his own version of Marley’s 1972 single Reggae On Broadway for his 1975 LP Tears On My Pillow.

Desmond Dekker’s classic Israelites is often credited as being the hit that introduced genuine reggae sounds to international audiences. The song hit Australian radios and charts in May 1969 after being issued by the W&G label. Intriguingly, it was leased from Pyramid Records which was a U.K label founded by Melbourne born sound engineer Graeme Goodall. Goodall was a respected and influential pioneer in the history of ska and reggae recording in Jamaica and was also a co-founder of Island Records in 1959 with Chris Blackwell and Leslie Kong. W&G issued Dekker’s It Mek and Pickney Gal as follow-up singles later that year, and a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want in 1970, but they failed to match the success of Israelites. Two Dekker LPs were issued around this time, Israelites in 1969 and You Can Get It If You Really Want in 1970.

W&G also began to license tracks from Creole Records, another U.K label that was releasing reggae. In 1970, through this arrangement, W&G put out The Pyramids – To Sir With Love b/w Reggae Shuffle, Mille – Poor Willie, and Bruce Ruffin – Rain. By arrangement with Ember records the label also secured Australian rights to release one of the biggest selling Jamaican singles of 1969, How Long Will It Take by Pat Kelley.

Also appearing in 1969 were discs on Steady Records which had been established a year earlier by Art Trefferson and Ken Khouri (of Federal Records) and based in Jamaica. They were manufactured and distributed in Australia by Festival Records. Three reggae infused sides were issued including two from Eddie Lovette – Too Experienced and Boomerang, and Red, Red Wine by Painted Garden. The Ken Khouri produced Reggae Greatest Hits LP by former Byron Lee’s Dragonaires vocalist Ken Lazarus was also issued around this time by Festival.         

Jimmy Cliff was another groundbreaking reggae artist who appeared during this period. His first Australian release was Wonderful World, Beautiful People in 1969. This was followed by Vietnam and then Wild World in 1970. Of these Wild World was the best seller, making the Go-Set charts for the first time in January of 1971 and staying there till the beginning of April. Jimmy Cliff also issued the single Synthetic World in 1971.

Festival was the primary label for distributing reggae music for much of the coming decade. In December 1970 it announced a distribution deal with Island Records that meant all future Island releases would appear on the Island label instead of Festival. An example of the change is Jimmy Cliff’s self-titled debut LP which originally appeared on Festival towards the end of 1970 and was subsequently pressed with the pink Island label early in 1971.

In 1971 Festival established Interfusion, which acted as an umbrella label for many of its international distribution commitments. Over the next couple of years artists like Dave and Ansel Collins (Double Barrel), The Pioneers (Let Your Yeah Be Yeah,) Bob & Marcia (Pied Piper), Greyhound (Black & White), The Vulcans (Star Trek), and Dandy Livingstone (Suzanne Beware Of The Devil) made their Australian debut on Interfusion. 

Reggae Catches Fire

1972 proved to be a big year for Caribbean sounds with international success for Johnny Nash and the song I Can See Clearly Now and pop stars like Paul Simon recording their own songs in Jamaica. Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion was cut with Jimmy Cliff’s band at Dynamic Studios. Also in 72, Van Dkye Parks released Discover America which was to become an underheard but influential recording that featured many sounds of the Caribbean, including the aforementioned Trinidad Steel Drum Band.

1972 was also the year in which Bob Marley and the Wailers worked in the studio on the seminal Catch A Fire, their first album for Island Records. The album wouldn’t be released in the U.S & U.K until April 1973 and by then there was a sense that something big could happen any moment with regards to reggae. Reggae Be The Rage by Robert Christagau was published in May 1973 and does a great job of setting the scene.

Christagau mentions Perry Henzell’s film The Harder They Come which stars Jimmy Cliff as an aspiring reggae singer. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in August 1972 before securing a U.S release date in February 1973. Australian audiences had a brief chance to see the film at the 1973 Film Festival but many had to wait until 1977/78 before the film was screened with any regularity in cinemas. However the soundtrack, which features Cliff as well as Desmond Dekker, The Melodions & The Maytals, got a full release in either late 1972 or early ‘73. The Harder They Come was also released as a single in 1973 but was not a hit. Interestingly, an earlier, slower, version of Cliff’s title track, titled The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall, had been issued by Island late in 1971 but was not a seller either.

Despite Jimmy Cliff’s international reputation as one of the stars of reggae at this point in time, it is worth noting that over the following couple of years there was very little new reggae material available. Cliff’s 1973 Unlimited LP wasn’t issued in Australia until 1976. His other LP from 1973, Strugglin’ Man, wasn’t issued on Island until late in 1974. A notable anomaly, though not a true reggae LP, is the 1973 release Interstellar Reggae Drive by Colonel Elliott and the Lunatics. This was a session group that cut one album for Trojan Records which fused reggae rhythms and moog synthesisers. They also released a single which covered the theme to Star Trek in 1972.

It seems that between 1972 and 1976, although big names like Johnny Nash and the occasional novelty act continued to release material with reggae influences, the prevailing attitude amongst record companies was that genuine reggae wasn’t something that needed concerted marketing attention.

Bob Marley and The Wailers Australian output during this period backs up this point. Catch A Fire was the breakthrough album for The Wailers in both the U.K and the U.S following its release in those countries in April 1973. However this was not the case in Australia where Catch A Fire didn’t get a release until late 1975 or early 1976. The first Australian LP by The Wailers was Burnin’, which came out in the UK in October 1973, though Festival didn’t issue it until winter 1974. Festival also released Get Up Stand Up b/w Slave Driver as a single from this album in June 1974. The B side, Slave Driver, is of course a track from Catch A Fire. Their next LP Natty Dread was released in the UK in October 1974 but not released in Australia until mid 1975. Lively Up Yourself b/w No Woman No Cry was released from the LP in September 1975.

Due to the growing success of Marley and the Wailers it appears that by 1976 things had begun to shift. Bob Marley and the Wailers Live LP came out in February with Trenchtown Rock b/w I Shot The Sherriff released as a single. Then by winter that same year Rastaman Vibration was on the shelves with two singles released to promote it – Roots, Rock, Reggae in June and Who The Cap Fit in October. Former Wailer, Peter Tosh, also released his debut LP Legalise It in 1976 through CBS.

In 1976 Festival issued Man In The Hills by Burning Spear, having presumably opted out of releasing the more radical Marcus Garvey album which he’d released in the U.K the previous year. That said, Old Marcus Garvey from that album, was one of 10 tracks drawn from the Island catalogue and released as the compilation This Is Reggae in 1976. The compilations opening song, and a single released in Australia presumably to help promote it, was Zap-Pow’s song This Is Reggae which had originally been issued in the U.K three years earlier.

In 1976 Australian buyers were finally able to get their hands on three albums by long time Caribbean stars Toots and the Maytals. In The Dark was issued in the UK in 1974 but not until 1976 in Australia. Take Me Home Country Roads was the single from that LP and also not issued until 1976. Their 1975 LP Funky Kingston also didn’t get a release locally until 1976, just before their new 1976 release Reggae Got Soul. The small M7 Records label secured the rights to release Creole Records in Australia and that meant an LP release for Desmond Dekker for the first time in 5 years with Power Reggae.

The momentum behind reggae increased in 1977 with Marley and the Wailers releasing Exodus in July and three singles coming from it: Exodus, Waiting In Vain, and Jamming.

In May 1977 there were regular screenings of the film The Harder They Come in  capital cities like Sydney and Adelaide. It’s possible that these screenings in Adelaide were also the ones that were attended by the young Bart Willoughby who would found aboriginal reggae band No Fixed Address within a few years and lay the groundwork for a wonderful heritage of indigenous Australian reggae that has flourished since. Also in 1977, Peter Tosh released Equal Rights & Burning Spear put out Dry & Heavy. 1977 marks perhaps the first Australian single which channels the spirit of reggae with Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons cover of I’m In A Dancing Mood. This same song was also covered by Billy T on their No Definitions LP in the same year. More on the Australian response to reggae in part 3.   

In 1978 it was possible to buy the Bob Marley & the Wailers LP Kaya which was released in Autumn. Two singles were issued Is This Love & Satisfy My Soul. In December 1978 Festival also issued Babylon By Bus with the single War. You could also get Althea & Donna’s Uptown Ranking, Bush Doctor by Peter Tosh, Handsworth Revolution by Steel Pulse, and Journey To Addis by Third World.  

Coming perhaps full circle before the end of the decade, Marley and the Wailers toured Australia in April/May 1979. It was a big success and inspired a number of fantastic local releases. Despite having been issued in the U.K three or four years earlier, and likely inspired by the Marley tour, this was the year in which it became possible to purchase local copies of The Stone Guide To Reggae, The Gladiators – Proverbial Reggae, U-Roy – Natty Rebel, Ijahman – Haile I Hymn (Chapter 1), Sly Dunbar – Simple Sly Man, and Mighty Diamonds – Right Time. The Culture album Cumbolo was another notable roots reggae album from the same year. Another big 1979 release was the soundtrack for the film Rockers which featured Peter Tosh, Junior Murvin, Burning Spear, and Inner Circle. It is also worth noting 1979 as the year in which The Specials broke through with their self-titled LP of ska which featured Message To You Rudy and Monkey Man.

This is the end of part two. Part three will look at the a few keys acts from the early days of the Australian reggae, ska, and dub scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Please sign up for email updates at the top of this page so you don’t miss updates from Sonic Archaeology into the future.

Big thanks to Vicious Sloth Records and Dynodynamic for help with some of the images. If you have anything else not mentioned here that you feel will make this story stronger then please get in touch. It’s always great to hear from fellow reggae lovers and record collectors.

Collecting Caribbean Records In Australia Part 1: Calypso and Ska in the 1950s and ’60s

My first awareness of Caribbean music was through cricket. It must have been the summer of 1984 or ’85, when the West Indies played the Australian Prime Minister’s XI at Manuka Oval in Canberra. My dad and I were among the record setting crowd who saw Alan Border and Rod Marsh do battle with Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, while a band of steel drums scored the action. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Infectious rhythms and colourful melodies leapt through the stands provoking the hips and feet of many to move. And it wasn’t just the sounds. I’ll never forget the joyous, friendly faces of the men playing the drums.

I subsequently learned that we’d been treated that day to some of the finest steel drum players in the world. Courtney Leiba was one of them. When I met him years later he told me about his life as a musician; how he’d been a member of the Trinidad Steel Drum Band in the 1970s; how he made records with Van Dyke Parkes; and that he was once nominated for a Grammy Award. Courtney was one of many who left their birthplace in the Caribbean and made new homes in other parts of the world. The music that travelled with them didn’t take long to find enthusiastic and appreciative audiences around the globe.

Bob Marley has definitely been the most visible (and audible) ambassador for Caribbean sounds over the last forty years. His songs, messages, and image have permeated popular culture. During my own travels I’ve realised that no matter which dot on the map I happen to be in, and regardless of barriers like age or language, it is usually possible to start a conversation about Marley and his music. His appearance on the international stage in the mid 1970s certainly played a significant role in planting the seeds for reggae and ska bands that began to bud towards the end of the decade and into the 80s. But there were many artists and recordings available long before that. For the music lover with an ear for island music there had been fantastic offerings since the 1950s.

Caribbean Calypso

Perhaps the first taste of the Caribbean for many was the Andrews Sisters with their recording of Lord Invader’s Rum and Coca Cola. The song was a big hit in late 1945 despite being banned on some radio stations for lyrics that critiqued prostitution in Trinidad while promoting coca cola and hard liquor.  

Lord Invader was one of many artists, including Atilla The Hun, Roaring Lion, and Lord Kitchener, who travelled overseas and cut calypso records after the second World War. Their work played an important role in popularising the style in countries like the U.K and the U.S.  

American Hi-Fi enthusiast and stereo recording pioneer Emory Cook was particularly passionate about the music of the Caribbean. His Cook Records label released a string of fantastic discs during the mid to late 1950s. In Australia, Cook’s “Sounds of Our Times” series of LPs were first issued in June 1955 and provided some of the earliest genuine examples of calypso to antipodean audiences.  

Harry Belafonte released Calpyso in the U.S in 1956 and it arrived in Australia in 1957. Jamaica Farewell and Banana Boat (Day-O) were released as singles in March. These were immensely popular and influential recordings. Calypso was the first L.P to sell a million copies in the U.S and the singles Banana Boat and Jamaica Farewell both made the Australian top 5. In November Belafonte was starring beside Dorothy Dandridge in Island in the Sun and the theme song became a third hit single for the year. Another LP, Songs of the Caribbean, also came out. Belafonte eventually toured Australia in August 1960. In 1961 he released Jump Up Calypso, the much anticipated follow up to Calypso.

In June ’57, with Belafonte’s voice emanating from radio stations across the country, the Tribune newspaper sought to understand the phenomenon a little better and asked Trinidadian author Ralph de Boissiere, who was now living in Australia, what is true calypso?

Besides Jamaica Farewell, two other calypso inspired singles made number one on the charts that year: Marianne by Terry Gilkyson and Cindy, Oh Cindy by Eddie Fisher. Marianne is a song often credited to Trinidadian singer The Lion, while Cindy Oh Cindy was a pop song with a calypso arrangement copied from Vince Martin and the Tarriers’ version the same year.

Hollywood looked to capitalise on the burgeoning popularity of Belafonte and calypso. High Society was a box office success in 1956 and featured Louis Armstrong performing High Society Calypso on its soundtrack. Director Howard Koch made two films in 1957 that riffed on the theme, Bop Girl Goes Calypso and Untamed Youth, the latter featuring Mamie Van Doren singing Go, Go Calypso.

Having already cashed in on the rock ‘n roll craze with the films Rock Around The Clock and Don’t Knock The Rock in 1956, Fred Sears and Sam Katzman made Calypso Heatwave starring Johnny Desmond, Meg Myers and Maya Angelou. It began playing in Australian cinemas in July 1957 and Festival released the soundtrack on Coral  Records.

In 1957 Festival also issued Goombay as a “musical flight to the Bahamas” which promoted both the music of Beacham Coakley’s Emerald Hotel Beach Orchestra with vocalist Vincent Martin, and the Pan-American Airlines flight from Sydney to Nassau.

American jazz drummer J.C. Heard toured Australia and recorded an album of calypso songs for the Philips label called Tropicana. Released in May or June 1957 it features a wide range of songs from both U.S and U.K based calypsonians including Wilmoth Houdini and The Lion. This record was released in the U.S as Calypso For Dancing. It was also made available in Europe. An EP was also issued in August 1957 (confusingly, using the same title and cover photo as the U.S LP) featuring four additional songs not on the L.P including Lionel Belasco’s Sly Mongoose.

Also available in 1957 was Hi Fi Calypso etc. by Enid Mosier and her Trinidad Steel Band. Mosier was born in Antigua and made her name on Broadway where she was cast as a calypso singer alongside Pearl Bailey in Truman Capote’s House of Flowers. She subsequently made a couple of recordings with The Trinidad Steel Band who comprised Michael Alexander, Roderick Clavery, and Alphonso Marshall.  Featured on this LP is the song that had become a hit from the show Two Ladies In De Shade Of De Banana Tree.

The recordings mentioned above were all made in the Caribbean or the United States. In 1958 at least two further records appeared from companies based in Europe and the U.K which underscore the influence of calypso in those parts of the world too. Southern Bar–B-Cue was released by Polydor with Armando and his Trinidad Orchestra performing most of the songs. French bandleaders Roger Roger and Marcel Feijoo are also on this LP contributing five of the fourteen songs. The first issue of this album appears to have been in Germany at the end of 1957.     

Caribbean Calypso is a compilation of records made during the previous decade by a handful of the most popular U.K based Caribbean performers. The album provides an introduction to seminal artists like The Lion, Lord Kitchener, The Iron Duke, and Lord Beginner. The liner notes give an interesting early history of the arrival of calypso in the U.K.

Jamaica Ska

Millie Small and her 1964 hit My Boy Lollipop was the introduction for many to the irresistible Jamaican rhythms of Bluebeat and Ska. The recording featured accompaniment directed by Ernest Ranglin. Lollipop was a top 10 hit in many countries including Australia. A U.S correspondent published in the Canberra Times in May 1964 reported that Variety Magazine was predicting a boom for Jamaican ska. New Zealand singer Dinah Lee recorded a version of the song Do The Blue Beat (Jamaica Ska) and it became a hit for her both in N.Z and Australia in September.

During the winter of ’64 Festival released a trio of ska singles from the U.S by the Ska Kings, Rhythm Kings, and Baja Marimba Band.  Festival also issued a couple of LPs – Caribbean Joyride by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and Jamaica Ska, with the latter featuring not only the Ska Kings tracks but also sides by The Charmers, The Blues Busters and The Maytals.

In 1965 the Woman’s Weekly published a feature advertising the “new jet air route via Tahiti, Mexico, Bermuda and Nassau” which made it cheaper and faster to travel to “The Caribbean Calypso Isles”.  In the same year W&G records issued Johnny Christian’s Calypso A La Mode which featured smooth, pop oriented tunes from across the islands.

The influence of ska was much greater in the U.K where migrants from the Caribbean had been moving in in large numbers after WW2. Labels like Coxsone, Bluebeat, and Island ensured that many great tracks were made available to the diaspora and many other English fans who developed a taste for the music and culture. One example was Birmingham band The Locomotive who were influenced by the rude boy sub-culture that emerged in the 1960s. In 1967 they released a cover version of Dandy Livingston’s Rudy – A Message To You for the U.K’s Direction label. This song was later covered by The Specials and became an anthem for the ska/2-Tone revival in the late 1970s.  In 1968 the Locomotive issued a follow up called Rudi’s In Love, which was written by their keyboard player Norman Haines, and it was a top 30 hit in the U.K. This meant it also got an Australian release on Parlophone records.

Another significant late 60s Australian release which bears the strong influence of ska is Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da by The Beatles. It appeared on The Beatles (White Album) in November 1968 and was also issued as a single in February 1969. It was to become one of the biggest selling songs of that year. Concurrent to The Beatles version was a cover by Jamaican singer Joyce Bond which was cut for Island Records and licensed to Festival Records. Arthur Conley also had a cover on Atlantic. The flip side of the Bond single has a great reggae instrumental called Robin Hood Rides Again which is credited to the Joyce Bond Review.

It’s also worth noting that a reggae influenced version of Give Peace A Chance, the first single by Hot Chocolate Band (later to become simply Hot Chocolate), was issued in Australia on Apple Records late in 1969.

Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da introduced a man named Desmond who has a barrow in the marketplace. Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker had toured the U.K early in 1968 and was Paul McCartney’s inspiration for the choice of name. Desmond Dekker would have been a new name to most Australian listeners but that was to change over the next 12 months.  

Part 2 will look at the emergence of reggae from the late 1960s through till the early 1980s. Please sign up for email updates at the top of the page to make sure you don’t miss it.

If you enjoyed this or have additional information or releases to share please leave me a comment below. I always love hearing from fellow collectors.

Here’s a dozen calypso tracks available in Australia between 1955 and 1958

Collecting Australian Pressings of Led Zeppelin 1

From the opening chord and drum kicks of Good Times, Bad Times it is clear that Led Zepplin sound like no band that has come before them. And when How Many More Times reaches its dramatic conclusion almost 45 minutes later, many listeners still say that the self-titled debut LP put together by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham is one of the greatest albums of all time. Of course other records followed throughout the 70s and the group became arguably the biggest band in the world.

In Australia the first Led Zeppelin album has been a popular seller since it was released. As a result there are many different versions that turn up. For collectors it can be difficult to work out whether the copy you have found is an original first pressing or one of those that followed as the audience for the record grew from thousands into millions. 

This guide is a hopefully presented in a way that will help both experienced and new collectors work out which version they have in their collection. It covers the significant changes in the way the album was presented in Australia during the 1960s and 70s. It doesn’t claim to be comprehensive in covering all the subtle pressing variations. If you have a copy that doesn’t fit what is described below then please drop me a line. I’m always keen to add to the knowledge presented here. When I started collecting records it was older collectors who helped me work out what was what and I am always grateful to those who share their learnings.

Festival and Warner Pressings of Led Zeppelin

The first important thing to know is that Led Zeppelin was made and distributed in Australia by two different companies at different periods in time. The album was released originally in the U.S on Atlantic Records who, at the time, had an arrangement with Festival Records in Australia. So early pressings were made in Australia by Festival. Then late in 1970 Warner Bros joined forces with Atlantic and began making the records instead. Festival Atlantic pressings have a green label with silver writing, while Warners Atlantic pressings have green and orange labels. These are the two most obvious differences, but there are other which are covered in more detail below.

Australian Release Dates

Led Zeppelin was released in the U.S in January 1969 and the U.K at the end of March 1969. While dates are available online for these countries it is not always easy to find them for Australian releases. So when did the first Australian issue appear?

It was certainly after the mid-January release in the U.S and Australia wouldn’t have been earlier than the UK date so we can reasonably benchmark April as the earliest month. Other clues are available by looking at the Festival catalogue number for the LP (S)AL 933,232 and comparing it with others released around the same time.

The Bee Gees big release for 1969 was Odessa and it carries the cat number SEL 933,241 indicating that it was released either at the same time, or just after Led Zeppelin. Remember that a big distributor like Festival would issue multiple LPs in the same week. Odessa was released on March 30th in the U.K which suggests that Led Zeppelin and Odessa both had a release in Australia sometime after then.

Moving through other Festival releases from this period brings you to John Braden’s self-titled LP SAML 933,255. A photo of the Festival promo sleeve uploaded to Discogs for this LP shows the album was released on the 30th June 1969. Given the later catalogue number on this LP it seems safe to say that Led Zeppelin couldn’t have been issued after this date.

So we’re currently looking at a window between April and June 1969. It’s possible that a look at the single from the LP can help further refine the date. Good Times, Bad Times / Communication Breakdown wasn’t a big hit on the national singles chart but it did make the Canberra top 40. Its first appearance there is 23rd May 1969 (its highest position on the chart was 13 and it hung around for several months). All copies I’ve ever seen of the single, including bullet sticker promos, advertise the LP under the name of the tracks. So the single was used to market the LP which indicates the LP was also available at the same time.

Based on this information it seems reasonable to say that the album first appeared between April and June 1969.

Festival Pressings: 1969 & 1970

Label Variations

Label design for Atlantic LPs released through Festival is consistent throughout much of the late 60s. An LP from 1967 uses the same colour scheme (dark green and silver), layout and fonts as a release from 1968 and the same is true for the first half of 1969.

One significant change occurred at the end of June 1969 when Festival stopped adding logos for the song publisher on their labels. This provides an easy way to identify a first pressing of Led Zeppelin. If the label shows the Jewel Music then your album is a first pressing. The label for the mono issue of the LP also features the Jewel Music stamp.

There are copies of the LP with exactly the same label colour, layout and font but without the Jewel Music stamp and believe these to be from the second pressing run which most likely occurred in July 1969.

From July 1969 Festival also changed the direction of the text for Atlantic underneath the catalogue number. Before that date Atlantic reads top to bottom but after that date the name reads bottom to top.

In the second half of 1969 Festival was experimenting with different fonts on their LPs and a third variation uses a slimmer font for the band’s name on the label. The font change here is consistent with that used on other LPs released and promoted by Festival in their Free Form series. This included the Fusion album Border Town and Tons of Sobs by Free which are pictured below beside this variation for comparison.

A fourth variation with slightly different font again was used from mid to late 1970. This one is harder to see if you’re simply comparing labels. The copies I have seen with this variation were housed inside covers that featured the Gold Record Award on the bottom left corner. The album was announced as having achieved Gold sales status in September 1970 so this gives an indication of the timing of these pressings.

Cover Variations

The covers are also a good source of information. The front cover with the iconic Zeppelin image by George Hardie remains basically unchanged across the different pressings with the main exception being the addition of the “Gold Record Award” sticker in the second half of 1970 (as mentioned above). The rare mono copies of the LP also have a red mono sticker which is easily seen in the top left corner under the band’s name.

First pressings were housed in ‘flipback sleeves’. For most of the 1960s Festival LPs were made with ‘flipback sleeves’. These are easily identified by looking at the rear of the sleeve, and particularly at the top and bottom seams. If the front of the sleeve appears to have been flipped over to the back and stuck down then you have a flipback sleeve. Later sleeves are different and the sticking is done inside the sleeve rather than being visible on the outside. Flipback sleeves will also generally have the name of the band, the name of the album, and catalogue numbers printed down the right hand edge of the rear of the sleeve.

Unique to Festival pressings of this LP is the inclusion on the rear sleeve of a biography of the band by June Harris and then individual biographies of the band members. This was only done for Australian and New Zealand markets (both handled by Festival).

Warner Pressings: 1970 Onwards

The Warner company began pressing Atlantic records in the US from August 1st 1970. This was part of a corporate change among record companies during the time. Kinney National Company, Warner’s parent company, was expanding and securing the partnership with Atlantic was a key deal for them. Part of their expansion included a new Australian operation and Warner quickly worked to set up their own office in Sydney which opened on 1st October 1970. There was a period where they relied on local manufacturers to produce their records for the Australian market but by November 1972 they began manufacturing their own records with the advent of WEA Records Pty. Ltd (W standing for Warner, E for Elektra, and A for Atlantic – the three big labels that had merged).

Label Variations

Following Warner’s deal with Atlantic there is a significant change in the labels used. The dark green label used by Festival is replaces with the U.S Atlantic label design that is green on top, orange on the bottom, and has a white band through the middle. This colour scheme is basically the same after this. The catalogue number printed on the label is also different. The Festival numbering (S)AL 933,232 is replaced with the U.S catalogue number SD 8216. Essentially what is marketed from now is a locally produced version of the U.S pressing. The other significant difference is the mention of WEA. Copies pressed after Warners take over (Oct 1970) and before WEA is established (Nov 1972) have no text indicating WEA. After November 1972, copies begin to have “manufactured & distributed by WEA Records Pty. Limited.

Cover Variations

As with the label design, the cover design also shifts to emulate the U.S pressings from Oct 1970 onwards. Most noticeable is the band photo (taken by Chris Dreja) on the rear of the sleeve instead of the band biography. The word ‘Stereo’ shifts from the top left corner to the top right corner for Warner pressings. Under the text on the bottom right of the rear sleeve you will find ‘manufactured and distributed under license’ which is standard on all sleeves produced by Warners in Australia during this period. From November 1972 onwards copies will have ‘manufactured and distributed by WEA Records Pty. Limited’ instead.

Summary – A Quick Visual Guide

First Australian Pressing (mid 1969): Dark green and silver Atlantic Label, catalogue number of SAL 933,232, mono number AL 933,232 also printed in top right corner of rear sleeve, Jewel publishing stamp above big Atlantic, flipback Festival sleeve, small Atlantic below catalogue number on label runs top to bottom.

First Australian Mono Pressing (mid 1969): Dark green and silver Atlantic Label, catalogue number of AL 933,232 on record label, mono & stereo numbers printed in top right corner of rear sleeve, Jewel publishing stamp above Atlantic, flipback Festival sleeve. Red mono sticker under Atlantic on front cover, small Atlantic below catalogue number on label runs top to bottom. NOTE – Unfortunately I only have a cover image of the mono copy at present. If you can help with label shot I would really appreciate it.

Second Australian Pressing (middle of 1969): Dark green and silver Atlantic Label, catalogue number of SAL 933,232 on record label, mono & stereo numbers printed in top right corner of rear sleeve, flipback Festival sleeve, small Atlantic below catalogue number on label runs top to bottom.

Third Australian Pressing (late 1969): Dark green and silver Atlantic Label, different slimmer font used for Led Zeppelin, catalogue number of SAL 933,232 on record label, mono & stereo numbers printed in top right corner of rear sleeve, non-flipback Festival sleeve, small Atlantic below catalogue number on label runs bottom to top.

Fourth Australian Pressing (Aug/Sept 1970): Dark green and silver Atlantic Label, different slimmer font used for Led Zeppelin, catalogue number of SAL 933,232 on record label, mono & stereo numbers printed in top right corner of rear sleeve, non-flipback Festival sleeve, small Atlantic below catalogue number on label runs bottom to top, Gold Sales Award sticker on front sleeve.

Fifth Australian Pressing (Oct 1970 – Nov 1972): Green, orange and white labels, US catalogue number used – SD 8216, labels do not mention WEA, photos of band members on rear sleeve, ‘manufactured and distributed under license’ on rear sleeve bottom right side text, Stereo moves from top left corner to top right corner on front cover.

Sixth Australian Pressing (Nov 1972 onwards): Green, orange and white labels, US catalogue number used – SD 8216, labels says “manufactured & distributed by WEA Records Pty. Limited., photos of band members on rear sleeve.

Thanks

My thanks to fellow collectors Gary O’Donnell, David Abbott, Jaesen Jones and Jeremy (@flipbackrecords79) for your information, photos, and all round help with pulling this together.

It’s probably worth mentioning again that this is far from comprehensive in terms of all the different variations released in Australia over the last 50 years. If the copy in your collection is Australian and differs in some way from those presented here then please get in touch. I’d love to improve this wherever possible.

If you want to read more about LPs pressed by either Festival Records or Warner Bros Records in Australia then you can find label guides to both here at Sonic Archaeology.

Finally, if you found this useful then please consider sharing with your friends and sign up for email alerts (back at the top of this page) whenever something new is published.

Olive & Eva: Pioneering Aboriginal Recording Artists

The Australian National Film & Sound Archive is a priceless jukebox of Australian music history. Among their many treasures, one the collector in me finds particularly pulchritudinous, is the mastertape of four recordings made in the mid 1950s by Olive & Eva. Who are Olive and Eva you might ask? It’s a great question that for a long time couldn’t be answered by Google or Wikipedia. Author Clinton Walker recognised their importance in his seminal book Buried Country, however details on their lives and careers have been few and far between.

Olive & Eva were pioneers of the Australian record industry who released just four songs on two discs for the Prestophone label in 1955/56: Old Rugged Hills, Rhythm of Corroboree, When My Homeland Is Calling, and Maranoa Moon. They were the first commercially available records by an aboriginal Australian act and represent the headwater for a rich river of indigenous artists who have followed them. The background to these recordings frame a compelling vignette certainly worthy of wider circulation.

An aspect that fascinates me is that none of the four songs were written by either Olive or Eva. Nor were they cover versions of the pop hits of the day. Rather, they were composed by Grace O’Clerkin, a talented singer, guitarist and poet. Mrs Conn, as she was known by many in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, felt an affinity with the aboriginal communities around Redfern and La Perouse. Coalescing through music and a shared love of the Australian bush, the three enjoyed a friendship that nurtured their individual talents and made history in the process.

To learn more I spoke to Eva’s younger sister Maisie Cavanagh. I later made contact with Val Weston who told me a great deal about the life of her grandmother Grace O’Clerkin. The two conversations helped illuminate the lives of their respective family members and provide a deeper sense of their relationship.

Eva Mumbler

“Eva was interested in the guitar but you know she never really played an instrument. But of course it wasn’t even just Eva singing at the time, it was Eva and her brothers.”

Maisie Cavanagh

Eva Bell (later Eva Mumbler) was born in Orange in 1938, the third of six children. Her family lived at Erambie Mission just outside Cowra in New South Wales. They loved playing music.

Maisie Cavanagh: “I guess , when you’re living in situations like living on a reserve on a mission, and you’re isolated from being able to get involved in other things that you might want to be getting involved in, you know people become very creative in terms of playing violins and guitars and so my grandfather used to play concerts. They’d organise dances and he’d play the piano accordion and somebody else would play the guitar and my uncle used to play the gum leaf and so they had their own little orchestra. My mother grew up with that.”

“There was always the radio of course, back then we always had music. We always bought records, so there was always that. We’d have people come and we’d have sing songs on a Sunday. You know, we’d sit around and have sing songs, and have yarns and things like that. That was a real common thing with aboriginal people. If it wasn’t at our place this Sunday then it would be at someone else’s place.”

16 year old Eva Bell. Photo courtesy of the Mumbler family.

Eva was eight when the family moved to Sydney.

Maisie Cavanagh: “My dad never lived on a reserve, so he didn’t’ take lightly to living at Erambie and he wanted to get his family to Sydney for all the sorts of reasons that many families moved to Sydney – employment, better education, better housing.”

“Coming to Sydney, we moved to Redfern. Redfern was not like it is today. There was only a very small number of families, I would say about five, and people would come and stay with their extended families until they got their own accommodation. I never met anyone who had private accommodation in country towns like Cowra for example. They either lived on the reserve or camped out in the bush. They found it very difficult to go through real estate and get accommodation.”

“Eva was interested in the guitar but you know she never really played an instrument. But of course it wasn’t even just Eva singing at the time, it was Eva and her brothers.”

“Gordon, my second eldest brother, if you closed your eyes and he sang, you would think that  it was Tony Bennett.  He sounded so much like Tony Bennett. And of course the eldest brother Ted, he had a beautiful voice. I remember as a young child hearing him sing as a soprano . He just had a beautiful voice.  Even after his voice broke he was still a very good singer.”

Olive McGuiness

“Olive’s family were very musical, they were some of the best musicians that I have ever heard in my life.”

Maisie Cavanagh

Two years her senior, Eva’s cousin Olive McGuiness also grew up on Erambie Mission and loved music.

Maisie Cavanagh: “Olive’s family were very musical, they were some of the best musicians that I have ever heard in my life. There was another family called the Williams’, she was related to them and we were related to them also, but she was closely related to them, and they were very, very good musicians. In fact, when Charlie Perkins first came to Sydney he set up an organisation called the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs and he had the family play at their gatherings.”

In the early 1950s, as a young teen, Olive left Erambie and moved to Sydney.

Maisie Cavanagh: “A lot of young aboriginal women back then would come to Sydney to get employment in private housing.  You know they’d become housemaids in private housing. Live in help. She came to Sydney and stayed with us until she found employment.”

Olive and Eva in Sydney. Photo courtesy of the Mumbler family.

Singing In Harmony

I remember my mum saying oh we need to get ready early or we won’t get in the door, cause it would be packed out.

Maisie Cavanagh

Sunday evening gatherings, known as sing-songs, were an important and popular aspect of the social life in the city.

Maisie Cavanagh: “[The sing-songs] might be in Redfern or they might be in Alexandria, it might be in Newtown. You’d know through the grapevine that they’re having a sing-song over in Newtown on Saturday or Sunday night. I remember my mum saying oh we need to get ready early or we won’t get in the door, cause it would be packed out.

“I think it was just one night at a sing song at home they asked Olive and Eva to sing a song together. (It was) some pop song they sang together. Everyone realised they both sound really good. When you named a song they would work out how to best sing it for their ranges. They had this real sixth sense when it came to each other’s singing ability”

“It was about that time when Olive was staying with us and they’d been singing on a couple of occasions, mainly at our place, and then Mr & Mrs Conn came one night and heard them.” 

Grace O’Clerkin

“She could play just about any stringed instrument. Banjo, mandolin, violin, she even had a go at the zither once.”

Val Weston

Grace O’Clerkin was born in 1901 and grew up in Queensland. She moved from Townsville to Sydney in around 1947 and set up home in Union St, Erskineville.

Maisie Cavanagh: “O’Clerkin was her last name but all the aboriginal people used to call her Mrs Conn. Her husband was a broad Irishman and his name was Cornelius O’Clerkin, so it was his nickname they used to call her by – Mr & Mrs Conn.” 

Mr & Mrs Conn (left and right) with daughters Phyllis (centre) and Valmae (front). Photo courtesy of the Weston family.

Val Weston: “Her house was like an old shop. It wasn’t a shop anymore you know but she lived in it. She could play just about any stringed instrument. Banjo, mandolin, violin, she even had a go at the zither once. I think she could play a little bit on the piano as well. Very talented she was. But the Hawaiian guitar, yeah, that was her specialty.”

In her younger years Grace had been inspired to write away for a Hawaiian guitar and sheet music after hearing her boss playing Hawaiian records in the workplace.

Val Weston: “She played it with picks and a steel. The first time I saw it, it was, just a dark reddish colour, and then in the 40s she sent the body away. Somebody was going to cover it with ah, well she called it nickel plate. When she got it back it just looked like a silver guitar. It was great. And I have it here and it’s still got a little dint in the back of it, I don’t know where she bumped it on something. So when she lived out at Yarra Bay, which is now called Phillip Bay, of a Sunday you know she would walk down to La Perouse and sit up on the grassy bank near the beach and play music and she would end up with a big crowd around her.”

Grace O’Clerkin wasn’t just interested in playing other people’s songs on the guitar either, she was always working on lyrics and melodies of her own.

Val Weston: “She’d sit most of the day writing. All she did was write. Lyrics, poetry or she’d be ruling up music sheets or something. In later years she wrote all her own music, even lined it up you know, she had a special pen with so many points on it that she could just rule the lines for the music to go on.  Yes she did a lot of music writing, manuscripts and that.”

“It was hard in those days to get any  Australian music out there because, well the only ones they were interested in was hillbilly stuff. But she didn’t write that. They were Australian Bush Ballads, I think that was what she called them. Some were funny and some were nice, I loved them all ”

Mrs O’Clerkin’s songs also made a big impression on Maisie and her friends and family.

Maisie Cavanagh: “Her music and her lyrics were incredible. She had this all steel guitar that she played on her lap and it sounded like an electric. And she was good. She was very good. I’d say that she was the best female guitarist I’ve heard in my life. She was just incredible. And the music that she wrote, a lot of it was uncanny because she was writing about aboriginal things, so she really had a feel for aboriginal people.”

Grace (centre kneeling) & her daughter Phyllis (Stella) between Chaplin and saxophone. Photo courtesy of the Weston family.

The O’Clerkins quickly became friends with their neighbours and before long they were an integral part of the suburban social music scene.

Val Weston: “Every Sunday night we used to go across the road to an aboriginal lady and play music at her place. But the crowd became so big that we had to take it back to Grandmas place because she had a bigger room. And every Sunday night we’d have music. The whole street used to go there practically and listen.”

Maisie Cavanagh: “When we had sing-songs at home in Alexandria, the non-aboriginal people who lived next door and across the road, they’d come over, or they’d be hanging over their fence. I think that these sings-songs in these people’s houses really started with Mrs O’Clerkin, because I could imagine that aboriginal people would have wanted to do that but been in fear of getting into trouble if you had a sing-song. But because she was having one in her house, then my mum and dad said we should have one in our place too. But they were the ones that really started it.”   

A teenage Jimmy Little and his brother Freddy were among those known to attend.

Over time O’Clerkin began sharing the songs she had been writing with a few of the regular singers who had been drawn to the gatherings.

Val Weston: “She had a couple of young aborigine boys who used to sing her songs. She used to take them around to different places and they’d perform. She had another boy, Eva’s brother, he had a beautiful voice as a child. He was about 12 I think. This was Teddy. Teddy Bell his name was. Oh yeah. Boy soprano he was.”  

Ted Bell was one of the first singers to perform Grace O’Clerkin’s songs. Though never recorded, he sang Old Rugged Hills at local events well before Olive & Eva.

Val Weston: “She was all for the aboriginal people. She had a very soft spot in her heart for them. Always tried to advance them. But in those days of course no one was really interested in aborigines performing, and that was a shame.”

Moving to La Perouse

“They were like celebrities amongst aboriginal people. Oh Eva and Olive are here, it’s going to be a good night now.”

Maisie Cavanagh

In the mid 1950s the O’Clerkins moved to the coastal suburb of La Perouse where they soon made new connections with the local aboriginal community, particularly through music.  

Maisie Cavanagh: “When she moved to La Perouse she would have her sing-songs there. The aboriginal people of La Perouse would all be there. We’d catch the tram and go out there, and not only us but others would catch a tram and go out there. She had this little place right on the side of Yarra Bay on the side of this little hill. You’d have to sit out in the yard because you couldn’t get in the door. It was a real gathering. It was a time when people would really come together and they were mainly aboriginal people.”

It was during this period that Olive & Eva decided to pay a visit to Grace. The duo had been practising harmonies for their own version of the Hank Williams song Your Cheatin’ Heart. Maisie joined them on the trip.

Maisie Cavanagh: “It was so good we all applauded. Then she took them under her wing and they were singing her songs. It was great. Eva and Olive they just came out to visit her one Sunday. Cause we lived out near the beach. And I think I was about 10 or 11 then. And I think Eva was 17. They sang a song for her and she loved it. Then they started singing her stuff when she taught them.”

As they practised and perfected new material their confidence grew and the O’Clerkins began looking for opportunities to play in front of new audiences.

Maisie Cavanagh: “It might have been a dance, a non-aboriginal dance. They were mostly non-aboriginal functions. I use to see the singer Harold Blaire and also Jimmy Little a couple of times at different functions.

Once their talents had been given wider exposure they quickly developed a following.

Maisie Cavanagh: “They were like celebrities amongst aboriginal people. Oh Eva & Olive are here, it’s going to be a good night now.”

The youth oriented newspaper Challenge announced a talent quest to be held across September and October 1954. Accompanied by Grace, Eva sang at the Randwick heat in September. Exactly which songs they played is unknown, but the performance was described in the Tribune newspaper as “moving”.

Eva at her Communion. Photo courtesy of the Mumbler family.

Australia’s Amateur Hour

“The night that they sang on the Amateur Hour, I think everybody in our street had their radio tuned in.”

Maisie Cavanagh

A pioneering radio talent show which had begun in 1940, Australia’s Amateur Hour was syndicated across the country via 55 radio stations covering both the cities and rural areas. Hosted initially by Harry Dearth and then later Dick Fair, it consistently drew huge weekly audiences, becoming a pop-culture phenomenon. In 1955 the top prize was £1000.

Olive and Eva entered. No doubt encouraged by their families, increasingly popular performances at local events and talent quests, not to mention Grace and Cornelius O’Clerkin.   

To win they’d need to impress listeners across Australia. Each heat and semi-final was decided by a combination of judges opinions and the number of popular votes chalked up via phone or mail in the weeks after each episode. Before their appearance Olive and Eva were justifiably nervous.

Maisie Cavanagh: “I remember Eva saying, when she heard this opera singer, her and Ollie were saying, oh my god we haven’t got a chance”

Though there is no first-hand record of their appearance on the show, there appears to be a strong chance that the song they sang that night was one of the four tunes they would shortly record for Prestophone. Whatever they performed it clearly went over well with those who heard it.

Maisie Cavanagh: “They won the Amateur Hour that night! It certainly wasn’t my little sock full of pennies that won it. I remember I’d saved tuppence or thrippence or something like that, that you had to put into the phone box. Course the phone box was on the next corner, you had to run around the block to go to the phone box. You had to call the station and tell them what number you were voting for. We just made so many phone calls that night.”

As a result, Olive and Eva were announced as finalists to appear at the Sydney Town Hall on Thursday 1st December 1955.

Performing alongside Olive & Eva were piano duettists Anne & Phillip Bracanin, soprano Margaret Goldstone, pianist Alexander Boettcher, piano accordionist Vina Loscar, vocal group The Four Brothers (Mick Beasley, Tiki Ticehurst, Ken Lloyd, & Tommy Whelan), banjoist Bruce Robinson, folk singer Fred Berry, tenor Greg Dempsey, and the Provost Brothers (Barry & Bruce).

The Four Brothers were also finalists in Australia’s Amateur Hour in 1955. Photo courtesy of Ken Lloyd

Unfortunately I’ve never been able to ascertain who ultimately won the contest that year, though I have spoken to a few who were there. Ken Lloyd of The Four Brothers confirmed it wasn’t them. He thought it might have been Margaret Goldstone. I also spoke to Phillip Bracanin who confirmed that he and his sister hadn’t taken the prize. He suggested it might have been Alexander Boettcher. It’s possible we will never know. What is important for this story however is that the momentum Olive and Eva gained throughout the competition resulted in their recording session.

Recording With Prestophone

“I don’t know how she did it but you know she put in all the extra bits as she went along with the song. She didn’t need accompaniment.”

Val Weston

Reginald (Rex) Shaw ran Prestophone Records from Pitt Street in Sydney. By the mid 50s the label had released discs by an array of popular local acts including bandleader Frank Coughlan.

Maisie Cavanagh: “My mother and Olive and Eva went into Sydney and we met a guy there and his name was Shaw. He wanted them to do some practice to see how they’d go. They only sang with Mrs Conn playing the guitar at that time. He wanted to see if they could sing with a quartet. Something other than the guitar.”

Their debut single Old Rugged Hills / Rhythm of Corroboree was released on Prestophone in 1955. The addition of a quartet was likely driven by a desire to broaden their commercial viability, however it meant that Grace O’Clerkin did not get to feature on the recordings.

Val Weston: When they made those recordings as I said they didn’t want her to play the guitar they had to use an orchestra. I don’t know if you heard of the song Rhythm of Corroboree, it was very powerful the way she played it. But on the record when they used the orchestra it just lacked something. It didn’t have any life in it. And I was a bit disappointed in that. And I think she was too. It was always nicer with the guitar. ‘Cause I supposed she wrote them for the guitar. And she played her own accompaniment on the guitar, I don’t know how she did it but you know she put in all the extra bits as she went along with the song. She didn’t need accompaniment.”

Despite any disappointment that may have been felt, as soon as the disc became available it was a hit with the local aboriginal community in Sydney.

Maisie Cavanagh: “They came home and it was really exciting. People came, like our family, our neighbours came in to hear it and put it on the radiogram. Awww it was, you know, we couldn’t believe it, we use to play them until we couldn’t play them anymore. You’d have to go get another needle, buy another needle. Yeah no, everyone was playing them. There weren’t that many but they were handed around to other people because there was that excitement. Because it was never heard of. Here was two people that you knew, that lived next door to you or you are related to them, and here they were on this contraption. There was certainly  that awareness that fancy that, you know here is Ollie and Eva, they made a record.”

Sadly, it seems that most of the copies that sold were snapped up by family and friends and then worn out through repeated plays on their home stereos. Few copies appear to have ever made their way to radio stations where they might have got a vital play or two that could have opened up further opportunities.

Maisie Cavanagh: “I haven’t heard anybody who has ever heard their record being played on radio. After the Amateur Hour, and after the record, I think they went for a little while  and then I think they started getting ready to settle down and get married. I think for Olive, well she’d been down in Sydney for a while, I think she just wanted to go back home, she was homesick.”

In 1956 Olive and Eva released their 2nd and final record through Prestophone: Maranoa Moon / When My Homeland Is Calling. Despite gorgeous harmonies, and more evocative songwriting from Grace O’Clerkin, the tracks failed to gain the wider public’s attention. It seems the pair stopped performing together regularly not long afterwards.

Keen to start a family, Olive moved back to Cowra.

However, Eva stayed in Sydney and continued performing publicly for more than a decade. She was one of two winners, along with mezzo-soprano Lorna Beulah, in the 1962 NADOC week Music Quest.

Eva could often be found singing at shows with the likes of Jimmy Little or the Silver Lining Band and was a regular entrant (and winner) of the many talent shows run by inner city pubs during the early 1960s. Eva didn’t stop performing until the birth of her third child at the end of that decade. One of her children was named Cornelius in honour of Grace O’Clerkin’s husband.

Val Weston: “In later years, when Eva got married she started giving guitar and ukulele lessons to some of the local kids and they were quite good too. Not singing but playing the instruments. Which is something I could never do. I just could never pick it up.” 

Beyond that the musical careers of Olive and Eva took a backseat, though whenever they found themselves in each other’s company at a family gathering they would sing together. Many Wiradjuri people of New South Wales still fondly remember them and their beautiful harmonies at get togethers.

Old Rugged Hills


Blue grey majestic, eternal they stand
Guarding the shores of my native land
Shelt’ring the valleys  where blue waters run
In adoration, kissed by the sun
Old rugged hills of Australia”

Old Rugged Hills (lyrics by Grace O’Clerkin)

Grace O’Clerkin continued to write songs and poetry until her death in 1964 at the age of 63.

Val Weston: “She had a very big funeral. The Premier of New South Wales sent a telegram of condolence. She had a lot to do with the aboriginal movement and she knew a lot of….she knew a lot of celebrities.”

“I remember when she got a Christmas card from Smokey Dawson. Lionel Long – he was a singer/actor. He wrote her a letter once. Jimmy Little visited once. But yeah, she did know a few celebrities. I think she knew Harold Blair.  He was an aboriginal tenor singer.”

Grace O’Clerkin. Photo courtesy of the Weston Family.

Following Olive and Eva’s recordings others, including Jimmy Little, began to perform O’Clerkin’s songs.

Val Weston: “I was really surprised to see Jimmy Little sing her songs on TV. Not many were interested in Australian music in those days. She tried so hard, you know going to all these record companies. But of course it was hard then. Nobody wanted to hear Australian stuff.”

When Eva sang in front of 3000 people in Sydney’s Martin Place to mark National Aborigines Day in 1962, one of the songs she chose was Old Rugged Hills.

Maisie Cavanagh: “It’s a very powerful song. It talks about you belonging, not just as an aboriginal person, but as an Australian. And it came long before I Still Call Australia Home.  It’s pitched that way. This is the land that you belong to.”

“You see aboriginal people have been conditioned to believe that we don’t have anything of value or beauty and non-aboriginal people have been conditioned to think that way about us, and we’ve been conditioned to think that way about ourselves. And so this person comes along and she writes these songs that have us thinking about ourselves and putting it in a way (or expressing it) how we feel. We have the emotion but we can’t express it about where we belong and what we belong to. I think that Mrs Conn’s music does that very effectively.”

Postscript

After many years searching I finally found a copy of Old Rugged Hills / Rhythm of Corroboree for myself. A photo of it appeared in my Facebook feed one day and a conversation with a collector in Sydney followed. He told me he was happy to see it going to an appreciative home. It now sits on a shelf alongside other groundbreaking records by indigenous Australian acts of that era including Georgia Lee, Vic Sabrino, Harold Blair, and Vicky Simms. There is a space reserved for Maranoa Moon / When My Homeland Is Calling.

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The podcast produced on Olive and Eva which features part of my interview with Maisie Cavanagh is below.

The Versatile Saxophone of Ted White

In 2013 I interviewed Ted White about his career as a saxophonist both in Australia and the U.K. His horn work can be heard on classic recordings that include the Arena LP and Stratusphunk with Bruce Clarke. The interview was subsequently used to build an episode of the podcast RareCollections which I hosted with my father, David Kilby. What follows is a transcript of that episode. I hope to publish transcripts of other interviews we did for RareCollections in the coming months so that all the good information contained within them can be read for the first time.

Jordie Kilby – There were some really exciting experimental jazz and electronic music that came out of the studios of Bruce Clarke in Melbourne in the late  60s & 70s. Now Clark was in the business of producing  TV and radio commercials  and a very good business it was for him too, but when the work was done and the musicians were still around in the studio there was always time for a bit of playing around…..

Ted White – John Lewis from the Modern Jazz Quartet came down one afternoon and looked at us like  and thought we’re all Martians, you know he couldn’t understand what we were doing, and we couldn’t either. It was one of those things  that you play or  see for  twenty seconds, then you wait for 12 more seconds and then you play and hey one of those you know.

David Kilby – A lot of the stuff was never released, but there are few interesting examples of some of the things they got up to. Now the voice you just heard belongs to Ted White and you’ll get a chance to hear him blow his sax in a moment, when this piece your hearing really opens up. It’s a version of  Oliver Nelson’s Three Seconds and the track comes from an album called Stratusphunk, released in 1974, and credited to the Bruce Clarke Quintet .

TW – Well we were electric at that time, I had an electric saxophone with a ring multivio with all these wizz-bang things you know, and I went in and saw Bruce, and Bruce was just at that time experimenting with the Moog synthesizers and all that sort of thing, and we went into the studio and I did a couple of things with the electric thing for him on commercials, and then he decided to form the group with Keith Sterling as well on trumpet. He had an electric hook up as well with wah wah pedals and all sorts of stuff like that, and that’s how we put out the album.

DK – This is RareCollections and the theme for this show is Ted White. Ted was a great and versatile sax player who has worked not only with Bruce Clarke, but led the band on the great arena LP, played bebop and big band jazz in England during the 50’s, toured Europe with the Maori Hi-Five, played on more TV shows than you can poke wharpy stick at, and even had a very small part as an extra in the film Cleopatra. Now there’s some great stories to be told ,so stick around and enjoy the man and the music.

JK – Now, in case you hadn’t already picked it up Ted was born in the UK and he started playing sax when he was sixteen, and he got his initial break  in a somewhat unconventional way.

TW – I’d had the saxophone about a week and I was practising my front room and a guy walked by and sort of came up the steps and knocked on the front door and said “have you got a  tenor sax”, I can hear you, and I said” yeah”,  and he said  “well we want someone for my band”, and I said “well you’ll still be looking because I’ve only  had it  a week”. Fortunately for me I’d had piano lessons when I was about five or six, but which got cut out because of the war, so I could read the treble clef and so he said “well, come along to the band and see how things go”.  And I went along and that’s how it all started.

DK – Now he stayed with that band until 1954 when the new movie about the life of Glen Miller opened.

TW – And the local Odeon had a competition with the bands to play Glen Miller tunes and see who  won. Well we came second, it was only a seven piece, and the band that won it, I had a couple of solos, and they offered me the job. And so I left that band and went with Len Turner, another band which was working  the American  bases at the time. I was also an apprentice at that time, an engineering apprenticeship, and I was coming home at 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the morning, and then I would get up and start work at 8 o’clock,  you know, and it got very tiring. In the end I gave the apprenticeship away.

DK – Once he committed to the life of a musician he threw himself into the thriving UK band scene.

TW- There was so much work in the 50’s. You know you just couldn’t stop.  If you got upset with one band you’d go down to Archer Street in London on a Monday afternoon and pick up another job almost immediately. It was a fantastic time for musos.

JK – Ted was gigging 6 nights a week at his peak. Often starting the evening with a big band on the Mecca Ballroom circuit or in a military base somewhere. And then after that he’d go onto a club in search of a smaller jam.

TW- I mean I was still playing when Charlie Parker was alive and there was no vocals at that time, there was purely instrumental music.  In those days if you played a good solo the crowd use to shout “go, blow, blow” and all would really get excited about everything, but of course they don’t do that anymore.  Every band now has virtually 85% vocals, which is a shame. That’s killed instrumental music.

When I was probably 11 or 12, we could get the Hot Club of Paris on the radio in London and I use to listen Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, things like that. So I think this, this is good music. There was a friend of mine, from a different school, came to me and said “I’ve  got these records of Alan Dean”. Alan Dean was later in Sydney, he had a recording studio there. So I met him years later and said to him “now you’re the cause of my downfall”.  You know I used to listen to Alan Dean. Ronnie Scott and Johnny Dankworth were in his band. I think they’d been on the boats, been to America and they came back to England and it was like a refreshing thing you know, it was away from the Dixieland, but you know, sort of more contemporary music, and that’s how we all got involved.

DK – In 1958 Ted made his very first appearance on vinyl playing sax with Chico Arnez.

TW – Well his real name was Jack Davis, he was a bass player and his father was a bass player and I think his grandfather was a bass player. They were a family of bass players. But he decided to form a Latin American band. We had 5 trumpets and 1 trombone, 4 saxes and about 6 rhythm.

JK – They gigged around London and they had a residency at the  Edmundo Ros Club on a Sunday night.

TW – Robert Mitchum was there, he use to like the band.

DK – Ah did he? Because he liked that sort of music didn’t he? That and West Indian music.

TW – Yeah and I think on the second album, I think he was on the cover or back sleeve of the cover on the second album. But I’d left the band by then. Well, after we played it was funny because Jack lived in Battersea, and after we’d finished we’d all go back to his place for drinks and play cards and he’d try to win all our gig money back of us by playing cards. And of course Robert Mitchum was there.

JK – The album Ted is on is called ‘This Is Chico”.

JK – In 1963 Ted moved to Australia, but in the 6 months or so before he decided to leave he was encouraged by some mates to sign up to work as an extra  on some movies being shot in London and he ended up getting screen time in 3 films. A documentary about the atomic bomb, Tarnished Heroes, and Cleopatra which was staring of course Elizabeth Taylor.

TW – It was in February in England which was below freezing and we had to get dressed up. I was suggested to hold this spear, or something like that. We had to get wearing the plastic Roman armour that they issue you and then sprayed down with a sun tan and then given a blanket and then got out on the set. This was of course about 6:30 or 7 o’clock in the morning and it was absolutely freezing. We waited and waited and waited because Elizabeth Taylor didn’t turn up. So we were all paid off. We came back I think and we did it the second day, did the same deal and got paid off again, and she had pneumonia and she didn’t do the thing and they eventually, I think they kept some of the long shots  of that day because it really looked like Rome. The set was  fantastic. Then of course they went to Italy and made the movie .

DK – Ted’s ticket to Australia came via a popular actor and TV personality, Digby Wolf.

TW – He said if you come out to Australia, he said I’ve got another show lined up in Brisbane. I want you to be the band leader because its aimed like the Gleason and Sammy Spear – Sammy Spear was a musical director and he wore a funny jacket and Gleason tore shreds out of him all the time. So he says I don’t want to do that to an Aussie, but I can do it to you because I know you.  So we got to the Chevron and we were out sitting by the pool, living like a Raja on Channel Seven’s budget, and we got a telegram from the States from Chris Bearde to go back and write Laugh-In. So he says “I’m going back to write Laugh-In, what do you want to do?” So I said “I’m quite happy where I am thank you very much”, and I stayed and got a job in the Surfers Paradise Hotel with an eight piece band there.

DK – In 1965 Ted hooked up with the Maori Hi-Five.

TW-I was working in the hotel with the band and the entertainment manager of the Chevron spotted me out and said “look I’ve got a Maori group over here and I want you to come over and try and, you know.” They couldn’t read music  that was the thing,  and everything was like, I’d have to play for them or write myself a piece of music and then play it for them to teach them.  You know they’ve got ears like parrots –  they could just pick it up.  Incredible musos they were. So I started off working the lights over there for them. I had another quartet in a nightclub called Digby’s, which was on the Gold Coast, and I used to work the lights and then he said why don’t you come and, you know your doing a few musical things, why don’t you come and join them? Which I did. And then they got a chance to go overseas, with an agent in London, and I joined the band.

JK – Ted travelled with the band to Europe and back. Stopping in South-East Asia along the way. While in the UK,  Ted says they were the highest paid unknown act working the club circuit.

DK – After returning to Australia he settled in Sydney where he soon found work playing with Ian Saxon and his band The Sound. They did a national tour and cut one single before splitting. The B side of the single was written by Ted and well give you a taste of that now.

JK – That’s a bit of Love Doesn’t Always Find A Way by Ian Saxon and The Sound from 1970. It was after Ian Saxon left the group to join jazz-rock outfit SCRA that Ted moved to Melbourne where he was to base himself for the next decade or so. By day he’d often work sessions at the Bruce Clarke studios in Saint Kilda backing artists or cutting jingles.

TW- I used to work a lot with Peter Best. Remember the one about Norm?

JK – Life Be In It?

TW- Yeah that one. Well the one I did was Norm dreaming.  It was one of them. I had to play the alto in an echo chamber sort of thing as though we were in his brain, you know.

DK – But by night he worked gigs, sometimes live, and sometimes on television. One long term gig he had was as part of the band on Ernie Sigley’s massively popular evening TV show .

TW- The entrance to the band room was a bottle of red wine or a bottle of wine every night. So there was 8 of us in the band so you can imagine how much wine we had. Whatever used to happen in the band room Ernie used to come and have a drink with us and that would end up on the show. Because he’d tap into everybody’s conversation and then roast you on national television.   

DK – It was while he was working on the Ernie Sigley Show  that he got a chance to make the Arena album that has since developed a reputation for being one of the finest jazz-funk LP’s ever cut in Australia.

TW- The Arena one was never intended to be an album. It was just a fact that the owner of the studio  had got a new desk and his engineer said to me “bring some of your mates in and record a couple of things” to let him have a good go at the desk. Which we did. I wrote a couple of things out on the quick went in and recorded them and thinking no more of it. Then they were interested….”oh you better come and do some more.” So we did 7 tracks  thinking well that’s it. We didn’t get paid or anything like that for it. Just purely a labour of love and much to our surprise he put it out as a  album.

DK – In fact the band on the LP is pretty much the same guys who were working the Sigley show with Ted.

TW – It was Bobby was on bass

JK – that’s Bob Arrowsmith

TW – Graham was on drums

JK – that’s Graham Morgan

TW – So I was on saxophones and another one of our mates  Jonesey….

JK – That’s Peter Jones

TW – he use to come in now and again but he was a jazz player and a good writer and used to do his own  commercials jingles and things. And Charles Gould. He was a guitarist who was in the ABC show band.

DK – When you think of the kind of stuff the band must have been playing on TV, and then listen to a song like The Long One, you can’t help but think they must have relished the opportunity to cut loose a bit.

TW – I’ve always been involved in that sort of music you know, that stretched out stuff. Music that you can have a blow on you know, where you can stretch out as a soloist.

JK – That’s Arena from their self-titled LP from 1976 and the track is called The Long One and it features some really tasty sax from the subject of this episode of RareCollections – Ted White.

DK – As you can probably imagine a sax player like Ted has had, over the years, the opportunity to back some of the biggest name in show business, when they’ve toured down under and he remembers a few fondly.

TW-Sammy Davis was great. Mel Torme was fantastic. Jerry Lewis was good.  I played with Clark Terry when he came out. He set the music out and we organised the band and we did a concert with Clark terry which was fantastic.

Well we’re close now to the run out groove of another episode of the show. We might finish up with a track from the 1972 LP Vichyssoise by Bruce Clarke and Maryan Kenyon. Its an LP that Ted was also involved with during his  early days in Melbourne and one that’s quite different to the Stratusphunk album that we began the show with.

TW – It wasn’t a call a three hour call or anything where we did the album. It was done over a few days, or perhaps a couple of weeks or something. It was a bigger band and on some days we had like 5 saxes, trombones, and trumpets, and all that sort of thing on a couple of tracks. And on another one we did with four flutes and strings.

JK – We will finish with Apricot Hot and it features Ted and his mates in the brass and woodwind sections being run through a Moog synthesizer, for a little bit of added colour.

The 3rd South Pacific Games and the early days of Papua New Guinea’s music industry

In 1969 the Freebeats recorded two songs in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Port Moresby studios that were used to promote the third South Pacific Games being hosted by Papua New Guinea. One was the official games song, providing a musical welcome to all who were attending, while the other was a localised version of the hit I’ve Been Everywhere which lists the towns and cities of Papua New Guinea. The resulting record marks not only an historic sporting and cultural moment for the Pacific region, but also the incipient music industry in Papua New Guinea.

Early Recordings From Papua New Guinea

Few recordings of music from Papua New Guinea were available to the public before the 1970s. One of the earliest collections is Music of New Guinea, which drew on recordings made by Australian ethnomusicologists Ray Sheridan and Dr. W.E. Smythe in the early to mid 1950s. These recordings sought to capture the sounds of Papua New Guinea before the influence of outside cultures. The same is true of the Ancient Voices of Papua New Guinea which appeared in 1966/67 on the Festival label in Australia. It wasn’t until the arrival of Viking Records in 1969 that releases featuring local pop and rock bands began to appear.  

Viking Records Promote Pacific Music

Viking Records began in New Zealand in 1957. During the following decade they became one of the most successful labels in the country releasing hits by artists including Dinah Lee, Max Merritt, Peter Posa, and Maria Dallas. Along with their pop and rock repertoire Viking released Maori and Polynesian music. They clearly viewed Pacific island music as a viable and growing market, particularly through sales to tourists. In 1970 it was reported that in any two months of the holiday season, AUD $200,000 worth of island music albums were being sold in Fiji alone. The South Pacific Games must have seemed like a great opportunity to market a local recording to the many people attending.

The South Pacific Games

The Pacific Games have been a significant event for people across the Pacific islands for more than fifty years. The Games’ origins go back to a meeting of the South Pacific Commission (now the Pacific Community – SPC) in Rabaul in 1959. The idea was first put forward by Dr A.H. Sahu Khan who was representing Fiji. It gained traction over the following two years and was adopted in 1961, with Fiji announced as the inaugural host. The South Pacific Games Council was established in 1962 and given the task of organising the Games. A key goal was to create “bonds of kindred friendship and brotherhood amongst people of the countries of the Pacific region through sporting exchange without any distinctions as to race, religion or politics.”

The first South Pacific Games were held in Suva between August 30th and September 7th 1963. Competitors took part in athletics, basketball, swimming, table tennis, lawn tennis, rugby, association football, and volleyball. Almost 650 athletes attended, representing thirteen South Pacific Territories, which at the time were American Samoa, British Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Gilbert & Ellice Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Niue, Papua and New Guinea, Tonga, Wallis & Futuna, and Western Samoa. Guam and the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands couldn’t attend due to the effects of Typhoon Olive.

With a headline reading “Problems At Pacific Games”, the Canberra Times published a story just before the opening ceremony from the Associated Press of America in Suva suggesting there could be issues with medal ceremonies for the games. “The trouble is, seven of the 13 territories fly the British Union Jack and sing God Save The Queen, two fly the French Tri-colour and sing La Marseillaise, and one does both. One is American territory and two are independent. The solution from the South Pacific Games Council was that each territory bring its own specially designed flag and victory song. The only country victory song I’ve been able to find to date is Papua, which was used by Papua and New Guinea at the games, and later recorded by the Hanuabada Girl Guides Troupe, It would be fascinating to know more about the other songs.   

Noumea in New Caledonia hosted the second Games in 1966 and in December that year it was announced that Port Moresby would be the site for the 1969 Games.

Papua New Guinea to host the 3rd South Pacific Games

The ‘Olympics of the South Seas’ was big news for Papua New Guinea. In a letter to the Post Courier newspaper in July 1969, William Padio of Rabaul reflected on the upcoming South Pacific Games and what it meant for people of the Pacific islands, “Since we are all near the equator we face the same problems….so it is our chance to discuss these problems and try to overcome them. We can learn from each other how we can solve problems……we can learn from some of those countries which are independent, how they go about ruling their country peacefully.”   

The Games took place in August. 1200 competitors and officials from 12 nations participated in 14 events. Australian and American tourist companies organised package deals that would allow tourists time to see a few days of the games during their holidays. The organisers also planned to bring 3000 Papua New Guinean’s in from across the country to ensure a fully representative cultural experience. Along with the games village, a billeting programme was set up to find places for everyone to stay.

Papua New Guinea put a great deal of effort into the cultural activities that accompanied the Games. A 75ft Hiri lakatoi (trading canoe), used in the traditional trading system between the Motu and Gulf people, was built by Hanuabadan villagers in Port Moresby for the first time since 1936. Team leaders and dignitaries were presented with artefacts sourced from across the country, including a Duk Duk from the Tolai people and Maiu from Orokolo people.  The crowds who flocked to watch the events were also noted for the music they played on guitars in the stands.

The Australian Army’s former controller of catering, Colonel W. Flood, was given the responsibility of feeding everyone. He was tasked with preparing three separate menus. The first included kaukau (sweet potato), yams and taro. The second was French food, with the New Caledonians reportedly asking for wine to be served with their meals. The third was to cater for British tastes.

The cost of hosting the games was estimated to be around AUD $825,000. The Territory Administration gave $150,000 but the rest had to be raised through public subscription. Walkathons were a popular form of fundraising and so were musical concerts.

Music to raise money for the Games

Australian pop star Col Joye and the Joyboys toured Port Moresby at the end of July 1969 to play shows at the Rugby League ground. Proceeds from the shows went towards the South Pacific Games Appeal.

Five pre-Games balls were held across the country to help with the fundraising. Port Moresby based band the Freebeats were sponsored by an airline to travel to each to provide the music. More than $600 was raised by the two hundred people attending the ball in the Eastern Highlands capital of Goroka. The Freebeats were joined by guest vocalist Ann Norton and according to reports the crowd didn’t stop dancing till after 3am.

The Freebeats

The Freebeats formed in Port Moresby around 1967. Members Neville Josey (bass) and Ray Mitchell (drums) had been professional musicians in Sydney since the beginning of the 60s. The pair first met while playing in The Statesmen, a group who backed vocalists Little Pattie and Roland Storm, along with others who recorded for the HMV label. The pair toured the region and eventually decided to stay in Moresby where they joined Roy Turner and Phil Neilson. The group worked hard to maintain a fresh set list of rock, pop and soul covers in their repertoire.

The band were regulars at the Aviat club and the Gateway Hotel. Along with their regular shows they also appeared with an impressive line up of touring acts. They put together a fresh stage show for a gig backing Little Pattie at the Four Mile Club in August 1970. They also backed Kamahl in October 1970 before playing alongside the Daly Wilson Small Band in December. At the Ansett Ball in Lae that same year they played alongside the Sydney pop-soul band In-People with Tony Gaha and Javanese vocalist Evie Pikler.

Viking Records in Papua New Guinea

Viking producer Charles Harley arrived in Port Moresby for the first time in 1969 looking for groups to record. Writing in the Post-Courier newspaper a year later, reporter Tony Adams said Harley’s “first impression, coloured by the raw insistence of Papuan folk-beat music, sent him back to Wellington with the notion that the Territory should be charted on the company’s musical map.” In the same story Harley says, “Papua and New Guinea is at the stage where the pop market will explode. It’s a question of being-in at the beginning to administer the right push in the right direction.” Harley signed contracts with three Port Moresby groups, the Stalemates, the Kopy Kats, and the Freebeats saying “Local musicians tend to swing to a Tahitian beat, but they have a distinctive sound, or we wouldn’t be spending time and money on the project.”

The Third South Pacific Games Record

The Third South Pacific Games is a catchy song that welcomes everyone to the Games. It includes lines acknowledging former hosts Suva and Noumea before namechecking all the nations who are participating in Port Moresby.

The other side of the record continues this idea with a localised cover version of the I’ve Been Everywhere. Written by songwriter Geoff Mack in 1959, the song was made famous by pop singer Lucky Starr in 1962. It was subsequently recorded dozens of times, including versions by Johnny Cash, Hank Snow & Kris Kristoferson, who each adapted it by substituting place names from their part of the world. In this case it’s an entertaining way to introduce everyone to the geography of Papua New Guinea. The record would have been available during the games but there is nothing to indicate how successful it was in terms of sales.

Closing Cermony

The 3rd South Pacific Games ended following 9 days of competition and 92 medals up for grabs. Topping the medal count was New Caledonia (34), followed by Papua New Guinea (24) and Fiji (15). The closing ceremony provided an opportunity for all involved to dance together in what one journalist described as a “vivid, if fleeting, sense of South Pacific identity,” while a traditional pipe band played Auld Lang Syne.

The Ball circuit continued for the Freebeats after the Games. The Kundiawa Chimbu Club Ball in October 1969 was described in the Post Courier as the best ever with the Freebeats hitting the stage in front of 200 revellers at 9:30pm and playing through till dawn.

Early in 1970 Viking released Last Train with The Freebeats which includes their versions Last Train to Clarkesville, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, and The Mighty Quinn and the local composition Kekeni Ani Mase. The same recordings were also used later for a Viking LP titled The New Guinea Scene. According to reports in the Post Courier the group didn’t like it because their songs were old repertoire and they felt the recording sounded like it was made inside a “telephone booth.”

These records, along with concurrent releases by the Kopy Kats, Stalemates, and Delapou Band, represent some of the earliest examples of contemporary pop records released from Papua New Guinea.

The Civic Symphony Orchestra and the first Australian LP

On the 6th July 1951 the Strings of the Civic Symphony Orchestra under Haydn Beck set up in the Great Hall of Sydney University and played selections by Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Lotter, and Percy Grainger. Though almost forgotten now, the record capturing the performance that day deserves a place in music history as the first Long Play Microgroove album (LP) to be produced in Australia. Its story brings together celebrated musicians, visionary town councils, and a pioneering record label.

Long Play Microgroove Records In Australia

In 1951 some 400,000 Australians had gramophone players according to the Sydney’s Sunday Herald newspaper. Most of these players were geared to play the 78rpm discs that had been popular during the previous decades. Very few were capable of playing the new 33 1/3 rpm albums that were beginning to enter the market via manufacturers like Decca Records in the U.K. However, big things were envisaged for the burgeoning album market, mainly due to the fact that so much more music could fit onto a LP. For the first time, an entire movement of music could fit on one side of a record. 

But albums were generally hard to come by. In an intriguing coincidence, the Federal budget of 1951 announced a rise in sales tax on records to 33 1/3%, a rate which perfectly mirrors the playing speed of the new LPs. To fight inflation the government of the day also announced restrictions on the import of records. These conditions proved fertile for the rise of a local record industry with labels like Festival/Manhattan, Fidelity, and the Australian Record Company (ARC) all beginning operation in the 18 months that followed. But the first to get their LP operations off the ground was Diaphon Records.    

Diaphon Records

Diaphon began operation in 1951 as the Audio Photographic Record Company. It became Diaphon not long before issuing its first records. The original Diaphon offices were in Sydney at 24 Moore St, Roseville.

There is not a lot of information around about the early operations, but it appears that in 1952 the company’s General Manager was Mr W. Walter Hayum. Hayum was an American who graduated from Albright College in Pennsylvania in 1950 before traveling to Australia. He had been involved in radio while studying. After arriving in Sydney he wrote stories for the local papers, sometimes using a byline that read ‘an American journalist, now in Sydney’. While in Australia, Hayum was also involved with the early days of Festival Records, and in particular the recording of Ken Neville’s Tales of the Dreamtime records. He left Sydney in 1954 and became a senior executive with Epic Records during the mid to late 1950s.     

Diaphon was also home to a young Ken Hannam, who was Managing Director for a period in 1954. At the time Hannam was a regular on radio and stage around Sydney, but he later carved an international reputation as a film and TV director. Perhaps his finest moment was his work as director of the film Sunday Too Far Away, which helped establish the new wave of Australian cinema in the mid 1970s. You can read Hannam’s liner notes on several notable Diaphon releases including the original soundtrack recording of the Australian musical Reedy River.

Bringing Music to the Suburbs

In July 1947 it was announced that renowned violinist and conductor Haydn Beck would be leaving the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to lead the new Marrickville Municipal Orchestra. A story in the Sydney Morning Herald said “the appointment is regarded as the most striking venture in suburban music since the foundation of the associated music clubs.” The orchestra was to number around 30 players, most of whom would be professional musicians with a smattering of amateurs. The push came from a committee of citizens who whose goal was to decentralise concerts and provide good music at an affordable price for music lovers out in the community.

Bringing music concerts to smaller urban centres in an organised way was a concept initially pitched in the late 1920s by basso Oliver King, who established the first Music Club in Rose Bay. Through the Associated Music Clubs of Australia, King imagined a nationwide network of clubs that would essentially crowd source the funding to pay for instruments and performers fees. In this way top level artists would be able to visit venues outside their usual concert halls. More than a dozen clubs formed in New South Wales in the first year, and though mainly confined to New South Wales, the Association continued to grow over the following decade.

The Civic Symphony Orchestra

The Marrickville Orchestra’s first performance was Thursday 27th November at the Marrickville Town Hall. Recalling the debut concert by Sydney Musica Viva two years earlier, it coincided with a blackout across the suburb, though the Hall itself was not affected. Trumpet player John Robertson was the lead soloist. It was well reviewed though there were plenty of empty seats. Critics speculated that it was due to the blackout rather than lack of interest from the public. 

For the 1948 season Ashfield Council pledged financial assistance and the orchestra was renamed the Civic Symphony Orchestra. In March that year Beck said that he would take the orchestra to any suburban area of Sydney where a guarantee of 100 pounds could be provided. Despite a dozen well reviewed shows that year featuring highly regarded soloists like pianist Enid Strong, tenor John Fullard, and violist Richard Pikler, the Orchestra ended the year in the red. Funding from the councils had been 1100 pounds but the costs had been double that.

The same troubles came up in 1949. The Orchestra began the season with 375 subscribers. Across the year they featured highly regarded soloists including Joyce Hutchinson, soprano Eleanor Houston, and cellist John Kennedy (father of popular violinist Nigel Kennedy). There were efforts to involve 14 other councils to help split the costs. The idea being that they could rotate shows throughout the suburbs. Ryde council expressed interest, but they couldn’t find enough support elsewhere. A newspaper helped pay for a couple of shows at Sydney Town Hall, private sponsors chipped in a little, but all told it wasn’t enough. When the councils met at years end they were forced to withdraw funding.

Throughout these years Haydn Beck was frequently recognised as the driving force and a conductor of great skill. His selections for the concerts were regularly praised for having popular appeal without being condescending.

Haydn Beck

Haydn Beck is an inspiring character who appears to have been drawn to trying new things when it came to presenting music to the public.

Taught violin by his father in the New Zealand town of Wanganui, Beck was child prodigy who could play Bach and Gounod from memory as a 5 year old. He made his first public appearance at the New Zealand International Exhibition performing the Bach A Minor Concerto. He was labelled the “young Joachim”, and a “budding Paganini” in the local press.  

Frank Denton ‘Haydn Beck’ circa 1905, black & white photograph, 1965/1/5.  Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of Mary Powell, Marjorie Marshall and Harold Denton, 1965.

While touring New Zealand, famed Czech composer and violinist Jan Kubelik invited him to play. Beck impressed him and Kubelik suggested he should travel to Europe to further his musical studies. 

With some 40 concerts already under his belt, the nine year old Beck travelled to Sydney in 1909 to help raise money for his travel to Europe. Works by Beriot, Elgar and Schumann featured in his debut show at the Sydney Town Hall in November. It was heralded a success in the papers and he subsequently played a string of shows, including appearances at the YMCA Hall, a garden fete in Rose Bay, and a Christmas eve show at Criterion Theatre before returning to Wanganui.

Over the coming years he occasionally wrote to the newspapers to inform the Australian public of his progress.  By April 1913 Beck had saved enough to travel to Brussels, accompanied by his father, to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Music under Cesar Thompson. His studies were interrupted by WW1 and he moved to the UK to complete his degree under Emile Sauret before returning home to New Zealand.

In 1920 the NSW State Orchestra toured New Zealand. They offered positions to several players including Haydn Beck while there. Beck moved to Sydney and in 1922 became leader of the orchestra at the popular Farmers Restaurant in Sydney. In 1924 he led the orchestra for the grand opening of the lavish Wintergarden Theatre in Brisbane. He stayed on for the next five years, providing musical accompaniment to the silent motion picture screenings during their halcyon days.

He eventually left in left in 1929 and became involved in the burgeoning radio industry. His broadcasts, most often with a string quartet, went out across the country as stations became networked and their content shared widely.

With an strong reputation behind him he was named Music Director for St James Theatre Sydney in 1935. He continued to play with various symphony orchestras around the country. In 1939 he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for a tour of the Russian Ballet, he played with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and in 1940 he was named leader of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Making the first Australian LP

1950 was a quiet year of lobbying for the Civic Symphony Orchestra. Then in January 1951 they found additional money to get it going again. A series of shows were programmed and the first, featuring a young Joan Sutherland before she made her stage debut in Sydney, was a great success. Unfortunately the two that followed were scheduled on dates that pitted the Orchestra against other big shows in town and they failed to draw sufficient crowds. Haydn Beck announced his disappointment and surprise in public, noting several times that Sydney only had one full time orchestra while many European cities with fewer people supported three or four.

It was at this point that the Audio Photographic Company approached the Orchestra offering to make a record in the hope that sales would help provide much needed additional funding.

Once the first copies came off the presses, a public performance of the recording was given at the David Jones auditorium on Castlereagh St in Sydney on Friday 3rd August 1951. Despite this initial promotional activity, it seems there were delays before the record was readily available to the public. Reports in the Sunday Herald on 30th September 1951 said copies would finally be available the following week. These were pioneering days for pressing vinyl and Diaphon must have had trouble finding a manufacturer with sufficient supplies to undertake commercial production.

It received a modest level of coverage in the media. Those who did give it their attention were impressed by both the performance and the quality of the recording. Music critic Selwyn Speight said “the performance stands comparison with most recordings of this work available, and is certainly better than some of the early American LPs.” In an interview in 28th November 1951 Haydn Beck mentioned the records and said they were selling excellently. Unfortunately, however strong the sales were it was not enough to solve the financial predicament of the Orchestra.

Music By The People For The People

Late in 1951 Haydn Beck started talking to the trade unions as a possible way forward for additional funding. The Bank Clerks Union helped first. Then the Orchestra played lunch hour concerts for the waterside workers union. A Workers Symphony Concert was performed in early December 1952.

A correspondent for The Labor Call who attended that concert wrote “the formation and financing of a symphony orchestra, ‘by the people for the people’ would make not only Australian musical history but news for the world”.

In 1953 there were stories that Haydn Beck was leaving for Europe. In his absence the Orchestra’s organising committee was going to try and finance at least a permanent string section. But then the trail goes cold, and there is no further reporting on either Beck or the Orchestra after 1954.

Diaphon Continues To Break New Ground

A second Diaphon LP featuring the Strings of the Civic Symphony Orchestra was released in December 1951. This album featured works by Tchaikovsky – Serenade, Opus 48, and the Andante Cantabile. A third followed in 1952 with Introduction and Allegro for Strings by Elgar, and Simple Symphony by Britten. They were recorded by the Civic Symphony Orchestra along with the Musica Viva Quartet (featuring Robert Pikler and Edward Cockman who had both played with the Orchestra). This got a release in the U.S on Mercury, with the label saying they were very impressed with the recordings being made locally. Presumably this happened through connections that W, Walter Hayum had back in the United States.

Following its initial forays into classical recording Diaphon broadened its scope. Popular organist Wilbur Kentwell made several records for Diaphon. His 1952 album of Richard Rogers (DPW1) songs claims to be the first LP made by an Australian solo artist. In 1952/53 Diaphon recorded and released some of the earliest jazz LPs made in Australia by the Art Ray Quintet and the Rick Farbach Group.

Rick Farbach’s arrangement of ‘Poinciana’ (Simon/Bernier) from an album recorded by ‘Session for Six’ on Diaphon in the 50s, accompanied by images from his private collection with permission of his family.

As 7” 45rpm records became popular in the mid 1950s Diaphon released notable modern jazz sides by the Claire Baille Sextet and Don Burrows.

The label also recorded the Horrie Dargie Quintet’s Farewell Concert at the Sydney Town Hall.  Released in February 1953 it quickly became a best seller and went on to become the first Australian album to achieve ‘Gold’ sales status for sales in excess of 75,000 units. Finally, in mid 1953 just after the death of Joseph Stalin, Diaphon announced a deal with French label Chant du Mond that gave it the rights to release recordings of works by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Despite all this activity the label essentially disappeared around 1957 when it became part of the W&G distribution network.

A Place In Australian Recording History

The Civic Symphony Orchestra was a bold experiment led by a talented and innovative conductor. Haydn Beck and the councils of Marrickville, Ashfield, and Ryde saw a great opportunity to bring music to their constituencies, but their efforts were stifled by limited pubic interest and financial backing. However, their first recordings remain as testament to their vision, and as a reminder of the early days of the recording industry in Australia. Hundreds of thousands of LPs have been released in the 68 years since the release of the first Diaphon LP, but Haydn Beck’s debut record with the Strings of the Civic Symphony Orchestra deserves to be remembered as the first LP produced and recorded in Australia.