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.

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