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.

Five Hammond Hits Featuring Col Nolan

When organ/piano player Col Nolan died this week we lost a great musician and bandleader. The news inspired an afternoon revisiting music in my collection that he helped create.

Reading through the credits on many of the records you notice that Nolan is usually found playing alongside names like John Sangster, George Golla, Don Burrows, Warren Daly, Sven Libaek, and Col Loughnan – some of the finest musicians of the 60s and 70s. It’s a reaffirmation that he was one of the most loved and respected keys players of his generation.

As a tribute then, here are five Col Nolan selections that feature his rock solid left hand, and his searching, imaginative right hand.

1. Crazy Crochet – Col Nolan Soul Syndicate (1966)

Crazy Crochet is all about dancing. The opening cut on the Soul Syndicate’s debut LP has Nolan’s organ right up front spitting melodic invention over a driving 12 bar blues courtesy of Peter Martin’s guitar, Stewart Speer’s drums and Johnny Allan’s electric bass.  One aspect of garage sales that I love is the opportunity to speak with sellers about their musical tastes and where they bought their records. In this case, I mentioned to the woman selling the record that I appreciated Col Nolan and was really happy to find a copy. She told me she’d loved his music ever since seeing him play at a go-go fashion show at David Jones in Canberra in 1966. Apparently the idea followed successful events in London and the U.S where designs by the likes of Mary Quant had been featured. I noticed later that the liner notes to the LP actually mention the mod fashion shows and credit them with being the inspiration for the LP. Now, whenever I play this record it evokes images of go-go dancers in cutting edge fashion doing the frug and watusi down a catwalk.

2. Shades Of McSoul – Col Nolan Soul Syndicate (1968)

This song opens the second Soul Syndicate LP with a burst of high energy soul-jazz. Following time in Hong Kong with the In-People in 1967, Col Nolan returned to Sydney and his band became one of the most talked about on the Kings Cross scene. Troops on leave from the war in Vietnam were a big part of the audiences that flocked to see them play at the Cross. Nolan’s hammond is the heart of every cut on this record. This track, written by Col Loughnan, along with the album’s title cut Whatever It’s Worth are two of its best moments. Also found on the LP are top shelf cover versions of Sunny and Ode To Billie Joe.

3. Dark World – Sven Libaek (1973)

Sven Libaek’s evocative soundtrack for the TV series Inner Space has rightfully been praised as some of his finest work. Dark World takes you to the depths of the ocean, hinting at the surrounding perils, while communicating a sense of the wonder of submarine life. John Sangster’s vibes are the star of the first half of this song but then Nolan takes over, playing his organ through murky wah pedal effects that take you deeper toward the ocean floor. It’s not the flashy playing you hear on other cuts here but is gives a strong sense of his feel and the variety that he was capable of.

4. WD & HO Blues – Daly Wilson Big Band (1970)

When Warren Daly and Ed Wilson first started planning their big band in 1968, Col Nolan must have been an obvious choice. The first chart they drew up for the band was a song called WD & HO Blues which features Nolan’s chops throughout. He begins stealthily, feeling his way round the warm bass lines of Ford Ray. Then, as Daly’s drums snap to attention and the horns begin to swing, Nolan opens up and the track really starts to cook. It’s an erudite statement of what the Big Band was all about and appeared on their 1970 debut Live at the Cellblock. Warren Daly once told me that WD & HO had a double meaning. It could be read as Warren Daly & His Own Blues, but it could also be seen as a subtle message to the company WD & HO Wills who were the parent company to Benson & Hedges who later sponsored the band’s touring and recording activity. Col’s Dilemma is another killer worth mentioning from the Daly Wilson output. It features his playing stretched out over 5 minutes and appears on the 1972 album with Kerrie Biddell.  

5. Buckingham Palace – Col Nolan Soul Syndicate (1973)

OK, so Col is actually playing a Fender Rhodes on this cut rather than a Hammond, but it still sizzles! It was recorded at Jason’s restaurant in Sydney which doubled as a jazz club on Sunday nights in the early 70s. The Soul Syndicate held a residency there for about 8 months before they decided to record a performance. It resulted in a live LP and a 7” with this track, and Johnny Nicol performing What’s The Use on the flip side. When I interviewed Horst Liepolt some years back he said that Live at Jason’s was the album that enabled him to start the legendary 44 Records label. He worked with Col Nolan to record and produce their set one week. Jason’s paid for the recording and Liepolt then licensed the tracks to the Avan-Guard label. Polygram indicated they would have liked the recordings and so Liepolt began talking to them about starting a label to promote Australian jazz. He then told them about Galapagos Duck and 44 Records was born.  The Live at Jason’s LP can be tracked down, but the 7″ is much harder to find, though well worth it.

Further Listening

This is really the tip of the Col Nolan iceberg. If you’re not familiar with John Sangster’s Ahead of Hair from 1969 then I recommend checking that out as it is a great listen that features Nolan’s work. The Col Nolan Quartet album Arrangements from 1976 has some fine moments and is worth picking up. DJ Kinetic put together a very tidy list of Nolan tracks for his Aussie Funk blog a few years back that suggests other wonderful sides. Finally, he was part of The In People alongside Little Sammy Gaha and Janice Slater in the mid 60s and I wonder if it is his organ featured on their rare 7” releases When It Comes To The Crunch & Big Daddy’s Discotheque. I’d love to hear from you with other suggestions.

Thankyou for sharing your musical talents with us all Col Nolan. May your recordings provide good times for listeners for many years to come.

A Guide To Festival LPs from 1952 to the 1980s

Most Australian collections will have an album made by Festival Records somewhere in amongst it. For more than 40 years the label was at the cutting edge of musical styles and technological innovation. It released some of the first rock ‘n roll records as well as some of the first stereo and microgroove recordings. This story attempts to map out a brief history of the Long Play albums (LPs) it released between 1952 and the 1980s. Apart from a few relevant departures during the early days, its focus is predominantly on Festival itself, rather than the many other labels that parent company Festival Records Pty Ltd also distributed over the years. Festival issued and then reissued many of its titles over the decades. This post looks at the changes in label design in the hope that it can help collectors identify which period their Festival albums were pressed in.

Microgroove LPs in the 1950s

Festival Records appeared in late 1952 at just the right time. Microgroove Long Play records were seen a big part of the bright future for the record industry in Australia but there were a few issues that needed to be sorted out. To combat inflation, the Menzies government had introduced tough import restrictions which had made it difficult to source new records which were usually shipped from the U.K. On top of that, if you did find them, there was a significant sales tax. That said, at that time some 8 million records were being sold annually in Australia.  If local production could be done then it seemed the best way to make records easier to find at a good price.

In May 1952 the Sunday Herald reported that E.M.I Australia had announced it would be producing and distributing the new technology “from November 1st, or as soon afterwards as is practicable.” It went on to say that Sydney dealers had said this development was the most important in the trade for many years.

A week later, the Sydney Morning Herald predicted that record buyers would soon be facing a Microgroove “war” with multiple companies looking at entering the burgeoning market. The same story highlighted the potential difficulties for collectors, with three speeds on offer 78rpm, 45rpm and 33rpm, but limited record players available offering the two slower speeds.

When treasurer Arthur Fadden handed down the 1952 budget in August there was good news – one of the big announcements was a drop in sales tax from 33 1/3% to 20%. Things were improving.

In his end of year wrap in December 1952, music critic Selwyn Speight observed that for record collectors, the year had been the most difficult and frustrating since the war, particularly for fans of classical music. However, looking forward to 1953 he said “the year’s outlook seems almost too good to be true”. His optimism was born of the fact that five companies would now be pressing LPs in Australia. Joining E.M.I would be Philips, the Australian Record Company, Radio Corporation, and Festival Records.

Festival’s First Release: Meet Mr Callaghan

The first recordings released by Festival were a single 78rpm disc on the Manhattan label featuring the song Meet Mr Callaghan played by Les Welch and his Orchestra. They hit the stores on 6th November 1952. Testament to the crowded market that Festival was entering is the fact that four versions of the same song were released on the same day. The B side featured Pamela Jopson, a vocalist Welch had met at a party, singing When I Fall In Love.

As a marketing ploy, even though it was the first release, the catalogue number printed on the label was FM-1019 to suggest there were other Festival releases out there. And indeed it wasn’t long before there were.

Several other single 78rpm sides from Welch were released in the coming weeks. By Christmas 1952 Meet Mr Callaghan had reportedly sold 10,000 copies and Festival was on its way.

Westminster Records

While Meet Mr Callaghan played to the pop market, Festival’s other debut offering was for the burgeoning classical market. On 9th November 1952 Festival announced that its had secured the rights to press titles from the highly regarded Westminster label. A 3-LP set of Puccini’s Tosca – Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera (WAL-302) began appearing in stores from December 1st 1952. Keen to promote this aspect of their operations, in the lead up to Christmas it was possible to go into David Jones in Sydney to listen to public performances of the record being played.

The First Manhattan/Festival Long Play Microgroove Records

Following these initial debut releases Festival quickly began marketing its first 10” Microgroove LPs. The earliest of these are Ken Neville’s Tales of the Dreamtime Vol 1 (FM-3) and Vol 2 (FM-4) which are first mentioned as upcoming release on 6th November 1952 and then as a new release on 8th January 1953. These dramatized stories of Australian animals with orchestral accompaniment were recorded in a church in Sydney in 1952. The project was instigated by an American named Walter Hayum who intended to release the sides in his home country. However, Festival became involved and they arranged for an Australian release as well.  

The next release is the fantastic Tempos de Barrelhouse – Les Welch (FM-6) which is the first Festival/Manhattan LP devoted purely to music.

The liner notes claim “progressing with the ever-changing and improving field of recording technique, Les again makes Australian musical history with this release on MANHATTAN Long Playing Microgroove – being the first Australian artist to be presented on Microgroove throughout Australasia.”

Certainly this is the first Microgroove LP release for Les Welch. While it was possibly the first, if not one of the first few LPs released by Festival, the bigger claim seems to be either a very careful choice of words or creative copywriting. Cyril Stephens and his Spotlight label in Victoria had already produced microgroove LPs featuring Australian artists with the earliest example being Bruce Clarke and his Samballeros – Evergreen Rhythm (S.V.1) which had been available since at least August 1952. Spotlight only had distribution in selected cities (Melbourne and Sydney so far as I know) so Festival’s claim that it’s the first available in Australasia would be true if there were evidence that Festival had distribution agreements in New Zealand or other Pacific countries at this time. I haven’t found any to date.

Another possible explanation, though a little wild, is that by using a capital M when saying this is the first “presented on Microgroove throughout Australasia” they are not referring to the technology, but to Microgroove Australia Pty Ltd, the small record pressing company that had been merged with Caspar Precision Engineering to form Festival only three or four months earlier.

Whatever the truth might be there is no doubt that at this time in Festival’s life it needed to create a buzz with potential customers and radio broadcasters, and this kind of story makes for a great talking/selling point.

More microgroove LP titles appeared on Manhattan throughout 1953. The label varies with some showing the city skyline design while others used a simpler green and gold combination.

The label continued into 1954 however most of their releases in that year were 78rpm Extended Play (EP) discs, an innovation of Festival engineer Robert Iredale announced in August 1953. Interestingly at the same time as Festival/Manhattan began marketing their Extended Play technology, German company Radio-Telefunken went public with a similar concept that they called Augmented Play.

1953: Classical LPs and the First Appearance of the Festival Label

The Festival label is best known for its success in the pop market, however its earliest releases were classical LPs. Given the nature of the market in 1953 this should be no surprise. Microgroove LP technology made it possible to hear entire pieces on a single disc for the first time. The companies’ initial strategy seems to have been to release popular recordings on the Manhattan label and classical LPs on Festival. The Westminster agreement meant Festival pressed the LPs but continued using the Westminster label. Festival was active in the early months adding other catalogues to its books and announced agreements with Remington (Dec 1952), Vox (May 1953), and Regent (June 1953).

The first records to display Festival labels were licensed from Remington and they were Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite – Viennese Symphonic Society Symphony Orchestra (CFR-25) and Rossini’s William Tell & Barber of Seville – Austrian Symphony (CFR-26).

In its first year of operation Festival/Manhattan released roughly 170 records and 80 of those were microgroove LPs. Of those 80, two thirds were classical records with an increasing number of jazz and light popular sides becoming more common later on as Festival added other labels like Radio/Record Corporation of America to its roster.

1953 – 1954: Introducing the Black and Gold Lyre Label

The first significant change to the Festival label design seems to have happened in mid to late 1953. The new label is black and gold. Festival is written in black on top of a gold band that surrounds a black centre. At what would be 6 o’clock on the gold band is a lyre. Gold text on top of the black centre gives the recording information.

One of the earliest examples (by catalogue number) I have seen is Errol Garner – Playing Piano Solos Vol 4 (CFR10-111). I mention by catalogue number because this ad for Errol Garner on Festival from December 1953 doesn’t mention Volume 4 which one might expect if it were also available.

Another early example is Rose Murphy – The Chi Chi Girl (CFR10-136) which was one of the first releases Festival made after announcing its partnership with the Record Corporation of America in September 1953. This was reviewed as a release on October 3rd 1953 which confirms that this label was in use as of that date.

Festival used this label design until at least April 1954 when Frankie Laine – Presents (CFR10-263) hit the shelves as a new release.

1954 – 1956: Black and Yellow Lyre Label

By June 1954 Festival had changed the colouring of the label. Instead of black and gold the labels were now black and yellow. One of the earliest examples is Hazel Scott – Piano Solos (CFR10-349). This release is significant because it was part of the original batch of records offered by Festival in June following an agreement to release recordings from the Decca, Coral and Brunswick labels in the U.S. This same arrangement allowed Festival to release the revolutionary 7” of Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock a year later which established the label as a leader in the emerging rock n roll market. 

The design was used until the end of 1955. One of the last LPs to use it was Gina Lollobrigida presents Music By Minucci (C10-801) which appears to have been released very early in 1956. 

1956 – 1959: Black and Yellow Festival Banner

Early in 1956 Festival again changed its label design. This time it retained the black and yellow colour scheme but consolidated Festival into a banner that covered the top half of the label so it could be read more easily.

Probably the first LP release to show the new label was Guys & Dolls Broadway Original Cast Album – Vivian Blaine & Sam Levene (FGL-12-806). Festival used this design for all their LPs for the next 3 years. In 1959 they moved to the blue conductor label for releases by international artists but kept using this design for local acts until the end of 1962.

One of the last examples of for international artists is Carmen McRae – Carmen For Cool Ones (FL-7059), released in the first half of 1959. One of the last Australian artist albums to use the design was Col Joye & The Joy Boys – Joyride (FL-30,692) in 1962.

It is worth noting here the changing catalogue number system used by Festival. Between 1952 and early 1958 releases on Festival and Manhattan followed the same numbering sequence whether the release was an LP, EP or 7” single, it simply put a 12 or 10, EP or 45 before the number to indicate the format. One of the final releases using this system is Bobby Helms – My Special Angel (SP45-1668) which hit the charts on 25th January 1958.  At this point Festival began separate numbering conventions for the different formats. 10” albums carried the FM prefix and begin at 6001, while 12” albums display the FL prefix and start at 7001. The first Festival 12” to use the new system is Andres Segovia – Guitar (FL-7001) which was out by June 1958. This continued until early 1961 when it changed to the FL 30,000 system which was used until the 70s.

1959 – 1963: Stereo LPs & The Blue Conductor Label

Stereophonic sound wasn’t new in 1959 but it had not been a focus for the record industry. News of “a cinema of the future combining television with three-dimensional films and ‘three dimensional sound’” was reported from the UK in May 1951, with the 3D sound being provided by 24 loudspeakers positioned behind the screen, in the roof and at the rear of the cinema.  Australian audiences got a taste in 1953 when 20th Century Fox showed off stereophonic sound as part of its innovative cinemascope medium for motion picture presentation in Perth. But it remained something promoted by the movie industry until 1958 when stereo listening in the home became an option. Some touted it as a way for radio to compete with television. Canberra’s first public demonstration of stereophonic sound was organised in December 1958 to showcase the possibilities. By March 1959 the Australian Woman’s Weekly was featuring “Sound Advice About Stereo” for those wondering what the fuss was all about. Always looking for innovation, Festival was quick to get its own stereo LPs onto the market with Adventures In Stereo (FST-1001) being advertised alongside Kriesler’s “3 in One” Stereo-Gram as early as June 1959.

The stereo LPs carried their own unique numbering system with the prefix FST which continued until 1961. One of the first musical releases in the FST series was Victor Young – Michael Todd’s Around The World In 80 Days (FST-1003).

The label shows the new blue/conductor design. The label is a deep blue and the word Festival is now presented in cursive writing. A conductor appears just behind the F.  

The conductor had been part of the Festival branding on their covers from as early as 1953, but this is the first time they used it as part of the label design.  

The blue conductor label was also introduced for the FL series at this time with one of the earliest examples I’ve seen being Sammy Davis Jr – At New York Town Hall (FL-7087) which was released in the first half of 1959. It was used by Festival until early 1963 with Patsy Cline – Sentimentally Yours (FL-30,932) being one of the last examples. During this period I’m aware of examples of the label being other colours (like green) but it is usually dark blue.  

Also of note from this period is the short series of four LPs that were issued at the “fourth speed” of 16 2/3 rpm. Each were spoken word dramatical performances. Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman was the last of the run and came out mid 1960.

As mentioned above, the Festival catalogue number system changed again in 1961. From here all LPs whether stereo or mono are released using the same 30,000 numbering with the prefix indicating whether stereo (SFL) or mono (FL). Stereo LPs also have a 9 at the beginning of the number. Festival use this same numbering system for all their LP from this date too so it is not just Festival albums that carry this numbering but also all the labels that Festival had the Australian rights to release. At this time they included Coral, Command, Brunswick and Ampar.

1963 – 1970: Blue/Silver Festival

In the first half of 1963 Festival began issuing its LPs with a new label design. This time it retained the cursive presentation of the word Festival but moved it down so it sat in the middle of the label. The colour scheme became blue and silver.

The SDS All Stars – Electone Fortissimo In Movie Themes (SFL-930,942), issued in the first half of 1963, provides perhaps the earliest look at the change. This label stayed in place, with occasional variations, until 1970. One of the last examples I know of is Barry Crocker – Both Sides Now (SLF-934,076). By the late 1960s Festival were releasing most of their material on the many labels they had either started (like Infinity) or acquired the rights to manufacture (like Atlantic, A&M or Stax). Only a handful of local acts were still releasing regularly on the Festival label itself.

1966/67: Blue/White Festival

One notable short period of variation is when the label used the blue and white version during late 1966 and early 1967. This design replicated the one being used for Festival 7” during the mid 60s.

There are examples of LPs that had been issued earlier that were reissued during this short period on the blue/white label. One is this album, Ancient Voices of Papua New Guinea (FL-30,976), which seems to have been first released in 1963.

1971: Green/Silver Festival Variation

A second variation is the green/silver label which appears to have ben used by Festival in 1971 before their final label change.

For a period in 1971 Festival used a green and silver label variation. There don’t seem to have been many new releases using this design, but an example is Lionel Rose – Jackson’s Track (SFL-934,166).

It was around long enough for reissues of older material though, and an example of that is Sven Libaek and his Orchestra – Australian Suite (SFL-933,151) which it seems likely was issued in 1971 as well.

1971 – 1980s: The Final Festival Label

Festival introduced what would be their final LP label design sometime in 1971. the colour scheme remained blue and silver though the blue is a lighter colour than the 1960s version. The word festival was also given a new font and raised above the spindle hole.

One of the first LPs released on this label was Barry Crocker – In London (SFL-934,335). This design was used with little change throughout the 70s and at least the first half of the 1980s.

Festival References

The focus of this work has been a chronological history of Festival/Manhattan since its inception in 1952. Much more detailed histories of the label are available and I would encourage anyone with an interest in Festival to check out the following: Michael de Looper’s extensive discography for Festival, Australian music website Milesago has a great history available, Discogs has a useful and expanding listing of Festival LPs, another really useful discography is available on the globaldog website. Big Boppa in the U.K have a great listing that charts the evolution of Festival 7″ labels. The Powerhouse Museum did a great exhibition of Festival to mark their 50th Anniversary in 2002 and curator Peter Cox produced a wonderful history of the label which is called Spinning Around: The Festival Records Story. It is well worth reading. I also need to acknowledge the amazing Trove Database of the National Library of Australia which is an incredible resource and was instrumental in researching this topic.

As I mentioned at the beginning this piece is an attempt to frame the evolution of the different variations of the Festival label so that it might be possible to date them more accurately. I’ve used records from my collection or those listed on online databases to inform my research. If you have discs that you think will help fill in gaps or make this more accurate please drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

A Guide To Australian Warner Bros Record Labels In The 1960s and 70s

Recently I became interested in understanding the evolution of the Australian Warner Bros label during the 1960s and 70s. This post focusses on key releases that highlight changes in the label design and information over two decades. Warners issued and reissued many of their albums over the years and my aim is to help clarify which years/eras certain pressings come from.

This guide is informed by marginalia from records in my collection, online articles & discographies, as well as newspaper articles found using the amazing Trove database at the National Library of Australia. Others have written extensive accounts of the Warner Bros story both in Australia and elsewhere and I have provided links to a few favourites at the end. This is a work in progress and I appreciate any feedback or additional information that improves its accuracy.

Quick overview of the different Australian Warner Bros. Records labels

1960/61: Establishing An Australian presence

The Rogers Record Review column in the Canberra Times on the 15th August 1960 covered the ‘big news’ surrounding the premier release for Warner Bros Records in the Australian market. Twelve of the best selling LPs from the U.S catalogue were selected as an initial offering including titles by Pete Rugolo, Bing Crosby, George Greeley, Raoel Meynard, Paul Desmond, Roger Smith, Bill Haley & His Comets, The Bobby Havana Boys, Tab Hunter, Stan from the TV Show Hawaiian Eye, The Warner Bros Military Band, and Edd Byrnes.

As ‘Kookie’ in the successful TV show 77 Sunset Strip, Byrnes was one of the star actors on the WB books. The top right corner of the LP’s front sleeve shows the boxed Warner Bros logo which would increasingly appear exclusively on the rear of the sleeve in following years.

Although released in Australia in 1960, the licensing and manufacturing information at the bottom of the sleeve copies the U.S release and reads “© 1959 Warner Bros Records Inc. A subsidiary and licensee of Warner Bros Pictures Inc. Manufactured and Distributed by Australian Records Company Ltd.”

The rear sleeve advertises ‘Vitaphonic’ high fidelity. This continues to appear on WB releases until at least 1968.

The grey label features a black and yellow WB shield logo. Variations on this logo come and go over the following decades. For the first decade WB was manufactured by the Australian Record Company Limited. They’re credited in the third row of text from the bottom (just above Vitaphonic High Fidelity).

The Outriggers LP is an early stereo pressing from the 60/61 period. It was originally released in the U.S in 1958. Note the catalogue number 1224 is lower than 1309 for the Kookie LP above. For the next decade Australian releases were selected from the broader U.S WB catalogue and not always issued in the same order as the U.S.

The cover reproductions remain true to the U.S pressings. The © text on the rear of this sleeve reads 1958. Years can’t be relied upon exclusively to accurately date Australian pressings until local WB manufacturing begin printing the ℗ year on labels in 1972.

1963/64: Manufactured in Australia By The Australian Record Company Limited

In 1963/64 there is a shift in the way the Australian Record Company is credited on the labels. Previously the text reads “Australian Record Company Limited“. The updated text is smaller print and longer. It reads “Manufactured In Australia By The Australian Record Company Limited, Licensee All Rights Reserved.”

It is difficult to be certain about the exact date. The last release I can find with the original text is W 1490 -Let’s Go! With the Routers. This was advertised as an upcoming U.S release in Billboard magazine of January 1963 and so it’s highly likely that it was issued in Australia sometime later that same year.

An early example of the new text is on the LP W 1525 Ski Surfin’ by The Avalanches. This was advertised in Billboard magazine as a new U.S release in December 1963. Therefore, it must have been released in Australian in December 1963, or far more likely, released sometime in 1964.

The updated text was certainly in place by September 1964 when the Peter Paul And Mary In Concert LP was released and being reviewed in Australia.

Interestingly, LPs like the debut by Peter, Paul & Mary, which was certainly issued in Australia by January 1963, were also issued with the updated text. This suggests that there were multiple pressings of at least this LP in the first year of its release.

1965/66: Warner Bros label goes gold

In June 1965, W 1589, Peter, Paul & Mary’s LP A Song Will Rise was a best seller in the U.S. The album was originally released on the grey WB label in Australia. Unfortunately I can’t find a primary source to confirm it, but it seems reasonable to say that WB would have wanted to get it out as soon as possible to capitalise on their popularity and therefore it was probably issued sometime in mid to late 1965.

By April 1966 the label had changed to gold. Ike & Tina Turner’s Live Show (W 1579) is an early example. The album was released in the U.S early in 1965 and the sleeve of the Australian pressing carries a © date of 1965. However, reviews don’t begin appearing in Australia until April 1966 suggesting WB delayed local release.

1967/68: Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Ltd.

In November 1966 Jack L Warner sold his share of the Warner Bros. Company to Seven Arts Ltd. In July 1967 shareholders of both companies approved the sale of WB to Seven Arts. The resulting merger was named Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Ltd.

The Association’s album Insight Out was packaged to capitalise on the success of their song Windy which was in the Australian charts in August/September of 1967.

Though the album was released in Australia after the merger took place, the text on the rear sleeve still reads This record published and © 1967 Warner Bros. Records Inc., A subsidiary of Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.

Anything Goes by Harpers Bizarre first appeared in the U.S Billboard charts late in December of 1967. Original promo copies of the U.S pressing credit still use the WB shield logo on their cover and credit Warner Bros. – Seven Arts at the bottom of the rear of the sleeve.

However, text at the bottom of the original Australian pressing, likely issued early in 1968, does not yet credit the merger and reads “This record published and © 1968 Warner Bros. Records Inc., A subsidiary of Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.”

The Grateful Dead’s self titled debut album was being reviewed in Australia in March/April 1968. The text at the bottom of the rear sleeve is the earliest reference I can find of an Australian pressing that credits Seven Arts. It reads “This record published and © 1968 Warner Bros. – Seven Arts, Inc., A subsidiary and licensee of Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Inc.”

Interestingly, the album was originally released in the U.S in March 1967. The fact that the Australian pressing has a © date of 1968, and the Harpers Bizarre LP also has a © 1968 date, despite being originally released in 1967, suggests that the © year printed on sleeves is becoming more reliable during this period.

The gold label was still being used in 1968 for this second WB album release from the Grateful Dead.

1968-69: W7 logo and the first green labels

Either later in 1968, or certainly by 1969, a new W7 logo had begun appearing on the front and rear sleeves – usually in the top right corner. The logo was introduced in 1967 in the U.S for films made by the company but it seems to have taken a little longer before it became a fixture on their recordings.

There is also another shift in the colour of the label – this time to green. Along with this change is new text that appears on the top of the label that reads Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Records. Underneath this text is the W7 logo.

Again, it’s difficult being too specific about when the changes occurred, but in this case the © date on the rear sleeve for Lalo Schifrin’s Bullit soundtrack (WS 1777) says 1969 and my copy has a radio station stamp showing May 1969 so it had certainly happened by then.

1970: Warner Bros begins Australian operations

In July 1969 the Kinney National Company acquired the entire Warner Bros. – Seven Arts company. This was a fascinating business move by Kinney who had previously run parking lots and a funeral home. By 1970 Seven Arts had been dropped from the name and the company was known again as Warner Bros. The label remained green but there was a return to the WB shield design, this time with blue text on an orange background.

Looking to expand further, Warner Bros. announced in July 1970 that it was opening Warner Bros. Records of Australia later that year. With Paul Turner as President of operations it launched officially on October 1st 1970. This launch marked the end of the Australian Record Company’s period as the licensee for WB in Australia, though it would still take care of distribution until late 1972 when WEA Records Pty Ltd. took over. Turner and his team were given full control of releases and promotional activities. They were empowered and encouraged to sign local acts and the WB companies in other markets, which now included Canada and the U.K along with the U.S, were to help market those acts to their own audiences.

The first local act to release an LP on the new label was Tamam Shud with Goolutionites And The Real People (WS-200001), which came out in late 1970. The label highlights the changes in design with Warner Bros. Records along the top and the WB shield logo featured below it.

The other change that takes place at this time is the manufacturing credit on the rear sleeve. From 1970 on it simply says “Manufactured and Distributed under license.” The example here is from the Brownsville Station LP from 1971.

1972: Year of release printed on label

The international corporate shuffling and negotiations continued and in the first half of 1972 Kinney Music International renamed itself WEA International. The WEA initials standing for Warner, Elektra and Atlantic -the three major labels that had been bought out by Kinney. WEA Records Pty. Ltd. took over sales and distribution from November with operations in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Brisbane. WEA Records Pty. Ltd. begins to appear on labels and sleeves as the distributor after this date.

Worth noting is that from 1972 onwards the Australian pressings of Warner Bros. Records begin to put the ℗ year on their labels just under the catalogue number and MX numbers. This makes it much easier to date pressings after this period.

Featuring G. Wayne Thomas, John J. Francis, Brian Cadd, and Tamam Shud, the Morning of the Earth was an early local success for the label becoming the first Australian film soundtrack to achieve gold sales status.

1973 – 1978: The ‘Burbank’ label design for international artists

In 1973 Warner Bros. began using a logo that reflected the surrounding of their headquarters in Burbank, California. This has since become known as the Burbank label. Most noticeably the text at the top now reads “Burbank, Home Of Warner Bros. Records”. The change seems to have occurred in mid 1973.

Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell’s soundtrack for the film Deliverance would have been one of the final releases using the green WB label in 1973. It was being reviewed as a new release in Australian newspapers in June 1973.

The self titled album by English band Greenslade (BS-2698) was being reviewed in August 1973. The only copies I have come across are on the Burbank variation.

The Burbank label didn’t change significantly over the following four years. The only update that I’m aware of is the addition of the word ‘Records’ through the middle of the shield logo. While I can’t fix a date for the change, it doesn’t seem to appear on anything before 1976. Releases I have from 1976 & 1977 have both variations.

Only international artists appeared in the Burbank label. Australian acts continued releasing albums on the green WB label through until 1975. An example is the Stone soundtrack by Billy Green (600 002) which appeared in 1974. Local acts began appearing on other labels of the Warner stable, like Reprise, after 1975.

1978: First use of the cream/white label

The final variation considered in this blog is the cream or white label which began being used in 1978. An example is the the Champagne Charlie album from Leon Redbone (BSK-3165). This continued into the 1980s.

Other WB sources of information

Michael De Looper has compiled an excellent discography of Australian Warner Bros. releases in the 1960s and the 1970s. It covers LPs, EPs, and 45s.

The Global Dog site has a comprehensive discography for Warner Bros 45s released in Australia.

The Milesago website has an excellent writeup on the history of Warner in Australia.

For thorough information on Warner Bros Records and it’s history in the U.S check out Warner Brothers Records Story – David Edwards, Patrice Eyries, and Mike Callahan

Robert Lyons is a good source for info about the U.K Warner Bros operations and pressings.

As I said at the beginning, if you spot anything that you feel should be corrected, or have information that can help further develop the detail in this blog, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

This is Sonic Archaeology

Welcome to Sonic Archaeology. I’ve set this up to share knowledge I’ve acquired, research and interviews I’ve conducted, as well as writing, documentaries, and mixtapes I have created over the last two decades. 

The plan is to share regular posts that will highlight stories and music that I love, and at the same time provide a glimpse into different aspects of cultural and social history from all corners of the world. 

When I was younger, the Indiana Jones films convinced me archaeology was my calling. Unfortunately, I spent too much time talking music with my science teachers, failed their classes, and couldn’t enrol for the required university degree.

After filling my house with recorded artefacts over the last 30 years, I now realise that I’ve been an archaeologist all along. It’s just my focus has been the study of human history via excavations undertaken at markets, garage sales and church fetes rather than Thracian battlefields or Mayan temples. And so – Sonic Archaeology. 

My tastes are diverse. I’ve been digging for records since I was a kid scouting second hand stores for obscure discs on my dads wants list. My dad has been buying them all his life as well. I quickly acquired his liking for raucous sax and guitar breaks, thumping rockabilly basslines, doo wop harmonies, lush exotica soundscapes, and anything else that stood out as being a bit different. Later I developed cravings that were satisfied by fatback drums, sassy horns, and sweeping strings. It seems there is an endless combination of instruments and styles that will move my soul in one way or another. 

Along the way I learned that all the interesting sounds I heard were personal expressions of lives being lived. And the stories of those musicians, their recordings, and the circumstances they made them in became a great interest in my life.

I was lucky enough to get a job in radio. Work that allowed me to indulge my passion. Fortunately, my dad was also working in radio, and together we were able to devote a lot of professional time to researching and presenting programs and documentaries involving many of our favourite players. Our longest running project was called RareCollections and featured exclusively Australian musicians and stories going back as far as the 1930s.  It ran as a podcast and weekly show on ABC Radio National for 4 years. 

For much of the last decade I have been working and traveling around the Pacific region. Through Sonic Archaeology, I’m looking forward to sharing some of the recordings I’ve come across during those travels as well.

There’s always more to say, but this initial offering is really here to welcome you to the site and encourage you to explore what’s here (more to come soon). If something connects with you then please leave a comment or drop me a line. Meeting other sonic archaeologists and making new friends has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this whole journey. 

Please enjoy.