The Australian 45rpm Revolution

The 7 inch 45rpm record was the final vinyl format to excite the imagination of the Australian record buying public. At the beginning of the 1950s, all the discs played on turntables across the country spun at 78 revolutions per minute (78s), were heavy, fragile, and limited to 3 minutes of audio on either side.

Local LPs began to appear towards the end of 1951 and became popular, particularly with classical music fans, over the next couple of years. However the 7” remained in the starting blocks, despite having been on the market in the U.S since the end of March 1949. The Australian 45 revolution eventually began in October 1953 but it took a while to hit its stride.

Looking into the near future, an anonymous writer in Sydney’s Sun Herald in May 1954 said “the 45s – 7 inch microgroove discs turning at 45 revolutions a minute – holds a position in the Australian record world rather like Cinderella’s. Someday, presumably Prince Charming (in the form of the Australian buying public) will suddenly realise the quality of this disc princess and she will dazzle the world.”

In 1955 two discs were released that dramatically accelerated their popularity.  But more on those shortly. This story covers the four years or so it took for the “One Ounce Bombshell” or  “Mighty Midget”, as the 45 was dubbed at various times in its early days, to become a central part of music culture in Australian homes.

The Australian Record Company and Capitol Records

In early 1951 the Australian Record Company (ARC) was best known as the place where many of the most popular radio programs in the country were produced and recorded. At one time it was producing a greater volume of recorded programs than any other plant in the Southern Hemisphere.  In mid 1951 announcements began appearing in press across the country that the ARC had reached an agreement to market and manufacture discs from the U.S label Capitol for Australian record buyers. The first Capitol 78s became available on the 9th August 1951.  CT-001 was How High The Moon by Les Paul and Mary Ford.

Battle Of The Speeds

Stories about the ‘Battle of the Speeds’ were not uncommon at the time. In the U.S and Europe all three speeds were available. In Australia the focus was still on the popular 78 rpm format and the emerging 33 1/3 rpm LP market. A story titled Record War Extends, published on 5th August 1951 discussed the ARC agreement and looked ahead to the potential for introducing 7” records saying “prospects of 45 rpm records before Christmas are still doubtful, and will depend on supplies of raw material; but if one local firm adheres to its plans and starts production of 20,000 a week, as threatened, it seems certain that other groups will join in immediately.”  Triple speed players (78, 45 and 33 rms) made by Decca were available in October 1951 and units made by Stromberg Carlson were being advertised in November.

Despite these developments, 1952 appears to have passed without any further significant initiatives relating to 45s. It is worth noting that a key marketing aspect of the new LPs across 1952 and 1953 was that they had a greater playing time than standard 78s. This was particularly attractive to the classical record buyers who comrpised biggest market segment at the time. In this light, the smaller 7” with less playing capacity, might have appeared to be a less attractive proposition.     

Extended Play and Augmented Play 78 rpm Records

In August 1953 Sydney’s Festival Records, and Germany’s Radiola-Telefunken both announced technological advances that facilitated longer playing times for their 78s. Festival called the new discs Extended Play (EPs) while Radiola announced them as Augmented Play (APs). Festival’s EPs were developed by Robert Iredale who would go on to a long career with the label. The EP allowed for 9 minutes a side on a single 78, which meant 4 songs could fit on one disc without extra cost. Pianist Les Welch released the first Festival 78 EP which featured My One And Only Heart, Say You’re Mine Again, Lay Something On The Bar Beside Your Elbow, and Just Another Polka.

The First 7” 45 rpm Records In Australia

The first 7” 45 rpm records were extended play discs, featured at least four songs, and were marketed by the Australian Record Company on the Capitol label beginning in October 1953. Writing on November 1st, Hugh Bingham said “Capitol appears to have taken a trick in the battle of the speeds with the first 45 EP.” The ARC chose Desert Songs by Gordon MacRae and Lucille Norman as the initial release with the catalogue number CEC-001. The CEC series continued with light classical material from The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestras., the Ballet Theatre Orchestra’ and Leonard Pennario through late 1953 and into 1954. By November ARC had added the CEF line which focussed on jazz recordings. The Goodman Touch by Benny Goodman (CEF-001) was the first in this series and the second 45 rpm disc to be released in Australia. The CEF series expanded over the coming months with additional titles from the likes of Nat ‘King’ Cole and Pee Wee Hunt.

The First 7″ 45rpm Record Available In Australia – October 1953

The Greatest Novelty Records Of The Moment

At last the 45 rpm extended playing records are to hand” wrote a reviewer for The Mirror in Perth on November 7th 1953. They are “lifelike in their reproduction and each side plays for 7 minutes compared with the usual 3 minute playing time of a 10” standard disc.” In December, music writer Gil Walquist discussed the pricing and convenience of the different speeds available and praised the high quality reproductions on 45 are saying they were the “greatest novelty in records at the moment”.

Gil Wahlquist discussing the prices of different speeds in 1953

Highlighting their summer broadcasts for 1953/54, 2GB in Sydney announced a new program called The 45 Club. It was presented by Leon Becker, and at the time it was thought to be the first full radio program of featuring only 45rpm microgroove recordings in Australia.

However the 45 didn’t take off right away. Writing on the 13th April 1954 Gil Wahlquist noted that “radio stations in South Australia are not installing three speed machines and that is holding up the development of the 45 rpm market. At some stations, including the ABC said Wahlquist, “the playing of 45 rpm discs is a ‘special’ job, and not for the ordinary shift rostered announcer, who spins the majority of the discs you hear on air.” Wahlquist also writes that Capitol’s policy for issuing 45 rpm is that they don’t duplicate music issued on other speeds. Additionally, he flagged plans by EMI to begin issuing English pressed 45s in the next two or three months. Ultimately he concludes “although it is languishing at the moment, the 45 business is no flash in the pan.”

Nixa Add Classical Titles

Although EMI had been talking about local 7” records in the next few months they were not the next label to issue 45s. Electronic Industries Ltd had been pressing LP records on the Nixa label since late 1952. and on the 1st of May 1953 Perth newspaper the Mirror reported that Nixa was “to enter the 7” 45rpm market in the next two weeks with releases of light classical orchestral pieces.” Sure enough, the first two titles, Strauss Operetta Weiner Blut by the Berlin Civic Opera (UREP 5) and Ponchielli Opera La Giaconda by Professori d’Orchestra La Scala (UREP 1), were reviewed on the 11th May by Brian Moroney. By August 1954 Nixa had issued at least half a dozen 45 rpm discs featuring the likes of the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Leipzig, the Radio Berlin Orchestra, and the La Scala Orchestra of Milan. These were all sourced from the Urania label. Advertisements from the time show Nixa marketing these discs as having 7 minutes of music per side. This appears to make it the second label to begin marketing 45 rpm records in Australia. 

EMI/Columbia/HMV Release The First 45rpm Single Play Discs

Ads for the first HMV & Columbia 45 rpm Microgroove records were appearing in the papers by August 1954. While Capitol and Nixa focussed on the extended play format, E.M.I’s initial releases were the earliest 7” single play records to become available in Australia.

Early advertisements emphasised that these were music for the “average record collector” and that they were “NOT extended play”. Music writer Gil Wahlquist featured the first E.M.I singles in a September 1954 article noting that “their surface is superior, they are almost unbreakable, and they are easy to handle, stack, and store.” The singles were available for 6/10 which made them cheaper than the Capitol 7” EPs on the market.

Those available included Josef Locke – My Heart And I (SCMO-101), Benny Goodman and his Orchestra – Temptation Rag (SCMO-102), Ray Martin’s Concert Orchestra – Carnavalito (SCMO-103), Montparnasse – Eddie Calvert (SCMO-104), and I’d Give My Life – Frankie Laine (SCMO-105) on the Columbia label, and Valse Triste – Leopold Stokowski (7RO-101), Merry Wives of Windsor – London Philharmonic Orchestra (7RO-102), and The Stars Were Brightly Shining – Giuseppe di Stefano (7RO-103) on the His Masters Voice (H.M.V) label. In October radio reporter Lesley Morris wrote that E.M.I had announced they were replacing 78s with other speeds in the U.K and would be doing the same in Australia in time. By December E.M.I had decided to add 7” EPs to their catalogue, and did so by issuing titles by acts including Ken Griffin and Duke Ellington. At first, the EPs were imported from the U.K before local production began later in 1955. This explains why early reviews use the U.K catalogue numbers. For example this review on 7th December 1954 cites the Duke Ellington EP available as being SEG-7503 whereas the local pressing Duke Ellington – Hawk Tales eventually carried the catalogue number SEGO-7503. In February 1955 E.M.I announced that it would release as average of eighteen discs a week in that year and that three of those would be 7” 45rpm records.

Fixing The Spindle Holes

Over the ten months since the introduction of the 7” it appears that Australian record buyers had been frustrated by different sized spindle holes in their records. LPs and 78s had a small hole while 45s had larger holes. As early as October 1953, A.R.C were marketing “a dingus called ‘a spider’ which enables the [7”] discs to be played on a normal turntable”.  

Writing in the The Sun on 5th August 1954, Vox Pop said “part of the reason for slow sales so far in the 45 discs has been the finicky business of fitting spiders into the 1 ½ in centres to fit them on a standard spindle.” On the same date, as E.M.I launched their 7” single, the ARC introduced the “Optional Centre” or O.C for it’s Capitol 45s. The O.S discs gave the option of playing them on a small spindle “or (by pressing out the centre piece) on the larger one found only on special 45 rpm players.” Praising their local development, George Hope in the Daily Telegraph on 8th August 1954, wrote that production of 45s has been “stepped up.

Among the first to hit the stores were Julia Lee & Her Boyfriends – Party Time (CEP-015) Dixieland Detour by Pee Wee Hunt (CEP-022), Stan Kenton Classics (CEP-023) and Cocktail Time with the Ernie Felice Quartet (CEP-024). Subsequently, September advertisements for the first E.M.I singles also made mention of their ‘new optional centre’ as well.

Festival Records Join The 45 Market

Up until October 1954 Festival Records had continued to rely on their innovative 78rpm E.Ps. However, on 24th November Festival announced their first release 45 rpm E.P which featured Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong and Delta Rhythm Boys (XP-45-479). Where there had been quality control issues with early Festival LPs and 78rpm E.Ps, it seems they hit the ground running with their 45 E.Ps. On the 18th December 1954 Harold Tidemann reviewed the Fitzgerald/Armstrong E.P saying that the reproduction it offered was “first class”.

Early advertisements pointed to future 45rpm titles by Alfred Drake & Mimie Benzell (XP45-451/2), Frank Luther (XP45-476), and Pearl Bailey (XP-45-447) as ones to watch out for. These appear to have been in stores by January 1955.

By Autumn 1955 45rpm records had been around for almost 18 months and yet no company had issued one by an Australian artist. Festival were the first to do so. As had been the case with the first Festival release in 1952, the first 7” featured the label’s music director Les Welch. Les Welch and his Orchestra (XP45-624) and Les Welch and His Boogie Woogie Quartette (XP45-626) were the initial offerings. They were soon followed by Tess & Flip Carbine – Wagon Wheels (XP45-633) in May 1955, and the Gus Merzi Quintette – Dizzy Fingers (XP45-656) in June. All four were extended play discs.

July 1955 marked a turning point for the the 45rpm in Australia when Festival issued two of its first 7” singles: Bill Haley and his Comets – Rock Around The Clock (XP45-679) and Darryl Stewart – A Man Called Peter (XP45-684). By the years end these singles would be two of the biggest hits of 1955.

Interestingly, the songs were featured in two very different films which proved to be among the most popular with Australian audiences over the next 6 months, and it is likely this also played an important part in their recognition. Rock Around The Clock Was featured in an expose of rebellious youth culture called Blackboard Jungle, while A Man Called Peter was the title song for a film about a Scottish man who received a calling from God and became Chaplain of the U.S senate.  

Rock Around The Clock

While it’s well known as a classic of rock and roll today, Rock Around The Clock didn’t grab everyone’s attention upon its release. Presenting the A.B.C’s jazz program Tempo Of The Times in July 1955, Alan Saunders played the records with the back announcement ‘That recording was played by Bill Haley and his Comets, and it will be all right with me if they don’t come around for another 70 years.” Others got it right away though and two weeks later Geoff Brooke, writing in his On The Grapevine” column in the Argus, reported on the new American popular music trend of ‘rhythm and blues’ which has the “whole band swinging a series of repetitious phrases, while a tenor saxophone honks away wildly over them.” Brooke cited Rock Around The Clock as a good example of the style, before sharing that the single was currently popular and that Colin Canning at Loel’s Rhythm Corner in Melbourne had reported selling 42 copies in just one hour the previous week. By the 20th August 1955 stories were being published that no single before Rock Around The Clock had sold so proficiently. A review in the Argus stated that the single has already sold 10,000 copies in Melbourne alone. 

A noteworthy aspect of Rock Around the Clock is the different ways in which people tried to describe it. On 13th August 1955, Bill Patey wrote about the “Rock Around The Clock brand of jazz” that should have appeared in the film The Wild One (as opposed to the west coast jazz it utilised).  A later review by Patey described it as “another variation on the hackneyed Shot Gun Boogie chord progression”, while another August 1955 newspaper column recounted a call to the Festival offices by a woman who was inquiring whether or not it could be considered a lullaby. By September, columnist Geoff Brooke was identifying it as rhythm and blues and predicting that it wouldn’t last long as a popular form of music.

Of course it did last and ultimately Rock Around The Clock sold over 140,000 copies and spent six weeks at number one according the Kent Music Report.

A Man Called Peter

A Man Called Peter premiered in Australian cinemas in July 1955. It proved to be a very popular film in the second half of 1955 and into 1956. When it opened at the Regent in Melbourne in January 1956, Hoyts offered a money back guarantee to film goers and it was claimed that this was the first time such an offer had been made. 

The theme song was cut in the U.S by vocalist Bill Farrell, whose version was being marketed in Australia as a 78rpm in early August 1955 on Esquire-Mercury. However, as they had often done before, Festival decided to cut a local version with vocalist Daryl Stewart. Les Welch did the arrangement, Wilbur Kentwell played organ and he was accompanied by trumpeter Dick McNally. By October 1955 it was listed as a best seller.

The Kent Chart listed the song as one of the biggest hits of the year and it appears to have been a popular choice of song for many amateur singers at functions at the end of the year.  

More Local Labels Launch 45s

As sales for these and other popular releases continued, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the record buying public were pleased with the 45rpm format, either as extended or single plays. This resulted in more labels issuing their own 7″ records.

Electronic Industries Ltd, who were already had light classical 45s on Nixa, began issuing popular recordings on Mercury in March/April, featuring artists like Jan August and Patti Page, and then jazz cuts on Clef in August, with the Gene Krupa Sextet – Payin’ Them Dues Blues (CL-001) as the initial release.

Melbourne’s W&G label were advertising their first 45 in October, offering The Five Keys – Lonesome Old Story (WG-SJA-115). By early 1956 they’d added E.Ps including Maxwell Davis – And His Tenor Sax (WG-EBA 107).

To cap the big year they had enjoyed with 7” records, In December Festival issued Ella Fitzgerald – Songs In A Mellow Mood (XP45-693/3) which was a triple 45 package.

The 45 Really Takes Off

The Australian Record Company (A.R.C) launched the Coronet label in January 1956. As they had done previously with Capitol, their focus was initially on 45rpm extended play releases.  Songs From Guys And Dolls (KEP-001) and Cha Cha – Belmonte And His Orchestra (KEP-003) were among the first. Their single releases stayed in the 78 format until later in 1956 when they also began issuing 7” singles on the label. In April 1956 ARC also began issuing 7” records on its Pacific label which featured Australian artists. The first release was the extended play Accordion Time by the Camilleri Quartet (PEP-001).

Further Australian innovation with the 45 was announced by Planet Records in February 1956 as they began to promote their first extended play discs with six songs.  Bob Crawford and Marcus Herman had developed a ‘secret process – claimed to be unique in the world’ for putting three tracks on each side of a 7”. The opening release to feature the technological advance was Samba-Rhumba Time – The Three Beats (PZ-001).

Perhaps the last, but by no means least, notable entrant into the 7” market was Amalgamated Wireless of Australia (A.W.A) who secured the exclusive rights to distribute the American R.C.A label. R.C.A had signed Elvis Presley in November of 1955 and already had established stars like Mario Lanza, Perry Como and Eddie Fisher on their books. In late May A.W.A began to issue 45s with initial releases including Eddie Fisher – Dungaree Doll (10115) & Kay Starr – Rock ‘n Roll Waltz (10116). Heartbreak Hotel, Presley’s first 45 release in Australia followed in July. Despite reviewer Bill Patey describing it as “a grotesque grasp-and-groan opus” the single represented the first of many hits for Presley over the decades that followed. Success that helped cement the 7” 45rpm in the hearts of record buyers across the country. 

I’ve tried to use as many resources as I could find to inform this story. Thanks to those collectors (Martin, Kevin, Clem & David among others) who helped me with a couple of the images I was chasing. If you have additional information that would improve it’s scope or accuracy then please leave a comment or get in touch via the contact page. It’s always great to hear from fellow collectors.

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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).

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 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.