It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Twenty Years Ago Today –
Part II: Interview with some women who saw the Beatles live

In addition to the interview with Glenn A. Baker, conducted for the audio documentary that John Barron is putting together for ABC NewsRadio for the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles Australian tour, I had the pleasure of chatting to some women who had attended Beatles concerts in 1964, and one who didn’t. The finished audio documentary will be broadcast on Saturday 12 June.

Demetrius Romeo: Zelie, what aspects of the Beatles was it that made you like them?

ZELIE: I think that being sixteen at the time, they were just the most wonderful thing for people my age. I just thought they looked gorgeous, we loved their hair which bounced about when they [sang], and basically the songs: the songs were about the things we cared about at the time.

Demetrius Romeo: How about you, Dianne? What did you like about the Beatles?

DIANNE: They were four handsome young men with that beautiful long hair, and their songs were just amazing. Every month, say, a new song would come out and we’d rush down and buy it. They were just different.

Demetrius Romeo: Gaye, how about you?

GAYE: I loved the rhythm of the songs – I know I used to love to dance and I remember we had really pointed shoes, and really brightly coloured shoes at one stage, and we all wore silly little mop caps. I remember wearing a little velvet mop cap to the concert and I thought I was great. It sat on my really bouffant hair style.

Demetrius Romeo: Bridgette, what was it that made you a Beatles fan? What attracted you?

BRIDGETTE There was so much going on. The songs were really catchy, they were great to sing along with. There was lots and lots of airplay. Being a young girl, we looked at our singers as idols. There were a lot of singers in the 60s, and the Beatles were huge.

Demetrius Romeo: Cheryl, how about you? What attracted you to the Beatles?

CHERYL: I just remember that it was a really exciting time. They were just there and it was something different. We hadn’t had this aspect in our lives before of four young men come to our country that we were able to idolize.

Demetrius Romeo: What do you remember about going to see the show?

CHERYL: I think my most vivid memory was that my cousin and I were really, really lucky; we got to sit in the front row at the old Stadium. And after the show, my cousin had been so excited about this show that there was a policeman standing right in front of us – they weren’t allowed to watch the show, they had to watch the crowd – and after the show he came up to me and said, ‘when your friend calms down, will you thank her very much, because she’s really given me a wonderful show, a show I’ll never forget, with her throwing of jelly babies and her screaming and yelling.”

Demetrius Romeo: Now, Gaye, you were that cousin. What was it like from your point of view?

GAYE: I just remember screaming. Everyone screamed at the top of their voices. I remember looking at the Beatles’ faces, and I remember I really liked Paul; he had really smooth skin and I guess he had a really baby face. But my friend Di here, I remember she just loved George Harrison, and she used to live for George. But that night is something that I will never forget, and it’s something that children today – they have so many bands to love and go to and see, but this was the one even we all just lived for. We all just lived for that day and we still have it in our memories like yesterday.

Demetrius Romeo: Di, did you throw jelly babies?

DIANNE: I don’t know if I did throw jelly babies, because, unfortunately we weren’t as close up as Gaye and Cheryl were, but I do remember standing and screaming through the whole show. I guess we heard snippets of the music. It was so exciting because we were dressed up in our rather mod gear, which was the fashion of the time, and it was so exciting, and I think, as Gaye said, teenagers today think that they’re quite unique but we were just the same forty years ago.

Demetrius Romeo: What exactly were you wearing to the show, forty years ago?

DIANNE: Well I think that I was wearing a very short miniskirt and blond hair of course, very mod cut, and the Beatles’ black cap that we wore, and I think – and I hate to say this – I think that I had knee-high socks at the time. So it was really funny. But we thought we looked absolutely gorgeous, of course, and it was just so exciting.

Demetrius Romeo: Zelie, you didn’t see the Beatles at Sydney Stadium, you saw them at Melbourne’s Festival Hall. What do you remember about the show?

ZELIE: Well, my strongest memory is of going with a group of friends, and I thought I was a bit more sophisticated. I was very concerned that they would lose control and scream and carry on. And when we got there, guess who screamed the loudest! I went totally hysterical. I have never experienced, since or before, a feeling quite like it. It was atmosphere, it was the build up, it was the waiting for them to arrive. And when they did arrive, the feeling of excitement – it was hysteria, really, was overwhelming. There were people around us, girls fainting and policemen trying to keep everyone calm. I remember one girl being carried out. It all got too much for her and she missed the show totally. But in the distance were these four little figures with their heads bobbing up and down, and you could vaguely hear this [faintly] ‘she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’ through mountains of screaming.

Demetrius Romeo: Cheryl and Gaye, you were ringside. What did the music sound like from where you were sitting?

CHERYL: It sounded wonderful but we could still hear the screaming – the screaming did take over. But the music was just fantastic. I think we were screaming too; it’s just one of those things – you can’t describe it. You can’t describe the feeling that you had. Forty years on, you’ve still got this feeling and you can still close your eyes and think that you’re back there in that stadium with all that hysteria and screaming and yelling. And by the way, we did have our little box brownies and we were taking photos of the Beatles up there on the stage. And we’ve still got these little black and white photos of the Beatles in the distance – because even though you’re ringside there’s still quite a distance between you and the actual stage. It’s just something you can’t describe.


Demetrius Romeo: Gaye, did you try to rush the stage, as people would today?

GAYE: No. I remember I stood up, but there was a policeman, and he was only about six inches away, really, we were quite nose-to-nose. I wouldn’t have been game enough to jump up on the stage, I think. But I know my own daughter has jumped into a mosh pit so her mother didn’t have enough courage to go up onto the stage. But a lot of people behind us from about the sixth row back, crowding, and trying to come up to the stage, but I think in those days we were more in control of our emotions, I guess.

CHERYL: Were we?

ZELIE: Oh, I don’t think so! I don’t think we had control at all. My memory is of being completely out of control.

Demetrius Romeo: How about you, Di, were you able to maintain control through it all?

DIANNE: No, not really. We were a little bit further away than Gaye and Cheryl but we were pretty well hysterical. But we didn’t try to rush down and jump on the stage.

Demetrius Romeo: Now Bridgette, you were one of the people who didn’t get to see the Beatles perform live in 1964. Why didn’t you get to a concert?

BRIDGETTE I think there was so much hysteria around the concerts that my parents were a bit frightened and a bit fearful that I might be injured with all the screaming girls pushing around the Beatles in the front rows, so I wasn’t allowed to be part of that situation.

Demetrius Romeo: But you still got to see them anyway, didn’t you?

BRIDGETTE I saw Paul. I was still going to school and we knew they were coming that day in 1964 and we were late for school because we stayed down on Anzac Parade to watch the cars go past. I was looking for Paul and I remember his hair, a side view of him, and I think we took off our hats and our gloves as they went passed, and it was really thrilling.

Demetrius Romeo: Were there a lot of people on the road with you, waiting to see the Beatles’ motorcade go by?

BRIDGETTE There wasn’t a dense crowd in that part of Kensington, but there were people all along the way, on every part of the road between the airport and the city. But there were a group of us down on the corner from our school.

Demetrius Romeo: Did you get into trouble when you got to school a little later?

BRIDGETTE I suppose it’s a good thing that I don’t remember. I suppose it’s one of those things where the teachers knew that not much work would be done.

Demetrius Romeo: Now Dianne, I understand that you actually have a very nice artefact from the Beatles’ visit. Tell me about the item that you’ve got in your possession.

DIANNE: I’ve actually got a men’s handkerchief that’s signed by George Harrison. My friend who I went with to the concert – her dad obviously had some connections to somebody and he got the autographs of the Beatles.

Demetrius Romeo: Where have you kept it all these years?

DIANNE: I’ve always kept it in my drawer with all my special little treasures. I bring it out every now and then to show the children. They’re quiet flabbergasted. But it is a real treasure, I think.


Demetrius Romeo: Cheryl, you’ve kept a ticket from the show – how have you managed to keep it in such good nick all these years?

CHERYL: I’ve just kept it in my photo album with all my special things. It’s just the original ticket from the night that I took home and kept safely and carted around from home to home. There it is.


Demetrius Romeo: Does anybody else have anything special from the 1964 tour?

GAYE: For a long time I had some jelly babies in a container until they got a little mouldy and the ants attacked them. That’s what I kept. I do have a tea towel - a lovely Beatles tea towel, and I never use it because it’s too precious.

Demetrius Romeo: Now Gaye, I understand that you took time out to take care of Jimmy Nichol, who played for part of the tour in Ringo’s place, because Ringo was ill. Tell me that story.

GAYE: I remember seeing a photo of Jimmy Nichol in the Herald or one of the other newspapers, and he looked so sad. He was going back to England after Ringo Starr had come out for the concerts and so I remember ringing Mike Walsh for a contact, to say thank you to Jimmy for coming out to take Ringo’s place when he had to. Everyone signed and we sent this thank you letter to him.

Demetrius Romeo: Did you ever hear back from him?

GAYE: No I didn’t.

Demetrius Romeo: Zelie, you also kept vigil outside the Beatles’ hotel in Melbourne. What was that like?

ZELIE: Well, again, the excitement was almost the same as being at the concert. Incredible crowds of people, lots and lots of young teenage girls feeling very excited and a little bit hysterical. They came out onto the balcony and waved to everybody. It was a very distant glimpse of them, but very exciting. The crowds were the biggest memory. The number of people – I’d never seen that many people.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you remember who opened for the Beatles in Melbourne?

ZELIE: I don’t exactly, but the friend who went with me thought it was Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. I don’t know if that would be right, though. I have no memory of the concert of seeing anybody but the Beatles. They were definitely the focus.

Demetrius Romeo: Dianne, do you know who opened the show in Sydney?

DIANNE: To tell you the truth, I’ve got no idea. It could have been the Queen of England for all I care, I cannot remember. We were only there to see the Beatles. And that’s who we saw and just thoroughly enjoyed it.

Demetrius Romeo: Gaye, do you remember who opened the show in Sydney?

GAYE: I remember seeing Johnny O’Keefe in this very, very tight, red leather suit singing ‘Shout’. But maybe that was another concert. But I just had a feeling it was Johnny O’Keefe.

Demetrius Romeo: Cheryl, who opened the show?

CHERYL: I have absolutely no idea. All I was there to see was the Beatles, and that’s who I saw.

Demetrius Romeo: Dianne, you were particularly struck by the Beatles; I understand you were going to go to London to see them after you graduated from school. Is that the case?

DIANNE: Yes, it was. My friend and I were madly in love with Paul and George and we had these great plans of, after school, we were going to go to London and get work and probably meet them at some nightclub or something like that and it was just a big dream. But it didn’t actually happen.

Demetrius Romeo: How were you going to finance this trip?

DIANNE: I think we were going to try and get some work after we left school something like that.

GAYE: I can remember, Di, and I’m sure this is true – Lynne used to cut the buttons off all her lovely dresses, and she was going to sell these buttons to raise the finance. I can really remember you two doing that.

DIANNE: Gaye, I can’t remember that at all. I can’t imagine who would want to buy buttons. I suppose it could have financed our trip.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Twenty Years Ago Today –
Part I: Interview with Glenn A. Baker


It may sound dubious, but my earliest memory, as a three year-old, involves wanting my older brother to play with me. He refused, insisting that he had to watch the television, a big, black and white HMV model, which was on in front of us, depicting some people singing. “What do you want to watch that for? Who are they?” I demanded. “What do you mean, ‘who are they?’” he replied. “They’re the Beatles.” He was pretty cluey for a nine year-old, but even so, had no idea to what exactly this scenario would give rise: I have pretty much been a Beatle fan ever since, and not just of the Frank Sinatra variety, who can refer to George Harrison’s ‘Something’ as “the greatest song Lennon and McCartney ever wrote”, but the scary, train-spotting variety. Some thirty years down the track from that day that I was introduced to the Beatles, I am sure that the clip on the telly was either the Beatles performing on Ed Sullivan (from that first American tour of 1964) or the scene based on it that features as the finale of their first feature film A Hard Day’s Night. Either way, I now assume that the Beatles were on the telly that day as a tenth anniversary memorial to the year Bealtemania hit the world. It would have either been the tenth anniversary of their US tour (since, if as I suspect, it was Ed Sullivan show footage, then it came from the February assault on the United States) or the tenth anniversary of their Australian tour, which took place in June 1964 (why else show vintage footage of the Beatles on Australian television?)

Move forward a decade.

For the twentieth anniversary of the Beatles’s Australian tour, I happened to be taking a day off school (or ‘sagging off’ as George Harrison would say; he wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun’ in Eric Clapton’s front garden on a day he’d decided to ‘sag off’ Apple). I was pleased to discover that the Mike Walsh Show, (like all midday shows seem to be, essentially advertorial twaddle aimed at housewives, dole bludgers, dope fiends and school-sagger-offerers), was that day dedicated to the Beatles. I imagine there would have been footage of press conferences, performances, crowds, but all I remember is Glenn Shorrock singing lead on a lot of songs. Most people know of Glenn Shorrock as a member of the Little River Band. However, during the 60s, he was in a band called the Twilights, whose claim to fame was being able to reproduce the Sgt Pepper’s album in its entirety on stage in 1967, at a time when the Beatles had ceased performing live because, among other reasons, their studio work was so complex that they couldn’t hope to come close trying to perform it live. Note that, until that time, the Beatles stood out from their musical peers as being one of the few acts who could reproduce their records on stage: the harmonies, the solos, even the ‘oooohs’, though rarely audible to a screaming audience and therefore on occasion rushed through at high speed, was as true to the record as possible. Shorrock, it turns out, has always had an infatuation with the Beatles – apparent, I would argue, even in the changes in key and time signature of LRB hits like ‘Hang On’. Of course, I have no idea who wrote LRB hits like ‘Hang On’, so that bit of evidence may not support the theory. However, when Beatles producer Sir George Martin conducted a program of Beatles songs at the Sydney Opera House a few years ago, Glenn Shorrock was one of the key people behind the event. Rather than reproducing Sgt Pepper in its entirety on this occasion, the finale involved side two of Abbey Road being presented. (The only drawback was the presence of James Reyne, singing lead on ‘You Never Never Give Me Your Money’; his particular method of destroying the English language makes understanding the words he is singing difficult at the best of times. However, at the Opera House, he came through loud and clear; he just got lyrics painfully wrong. Instead of singing “pick up your bags and get in the limousine” in ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, he sang “get in the bags and get in the limousine”. What on earth can that possibly mean? It’s nonsense. Unless, of course, he was singing about Yoko Ono, who was known to perform on stage from within great big sacks. Did Reyne think Paul McCartney wrote that song about John and Yoko?

For the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles’ Australian tour, John Barron is putting together an audio documentary for ABC NewsRadio that includes insterviews with Johnny Chester and Johnny Devlin, support acts for the Beatles on their tour of Australia and New Zealand. John has also interviewed Bob Rogers, who at the time was a DJ for Radio 2SM, and had been given the enviable task of accompanying the Beatles on the tour in order to interview them daily. Another journalist who spoke extensively with the Beatles then and with John Barron now is Dick Hughes. Dick is an interesting character: in addition to being a print journalist, Dick Hughes was also a jazz musician and is father to Christa Hughes, also known as Machine Gun Fellatio's own K. K. Juggy.

I pursued a couple of interviews of my own - the first was with Glenn A. Baker, musicologist, knower of all things musical, and author of the book The Beatles Downunder. The audio documentary will be broadcast on Saturday 12 2004.

Demetrius Romeo: Glenn, when the Beatles came to Australia, there was a lot of hype surrounding it, and Australia seemed to have the biggest audience response up to that time. Why was that?

GLENN A. BAKER: Not only up to that time, but in the entire span of Beatlemania, the Australian reaction stands in the history books – some of which I’ve written – as the biggest, most astonishing outpourings of Beatlemania of all time. Let me put this in perspective: in February 1964, when they arrived in New York for the first time, at Kennedy Airport they were met by ten thousand fans. Four months later, in June 1964, they flew into Adelaide and from the airport into the city was 350,000 people; Melbourne; 250,000 people.

Just to show you this wasn’t just the early days of Beatlemania: when they got back from Australia, within days they went to Liverpool for the opening of A Hard Day’s Night, for the premiere. 100,000 people. I think that speaks more about us than it does about the Beatles. It tells us more about our sense of isolation: this small community – I think there were about 11 million people then – far flung to the bottom of the world, in touch only through newsreels and only moderately accurate TV news… In other words, we sensed there was something happening overseas, and it was wild, and it was exciting, and it was the liberation of youth and there was something about that that when we got closer and closer to it, it got unbearably enticing, and when these four young gods from Liverpool, who could spin the world off its axis by just their funny way of saying ‘luv’, and hair just over the collar – when they arrived in our presence, the nation just exploded.

See, Britain and America were part – at that time – of the real world. Sensations happened there. Not much happened down here. We’d had the conservative years of Menzies’ government, and it really was your white picket fence world. Not that much happened. And suddenly, a sixteen year-old – and that’s generally the age; nowadays for teen sensations it’s nine, ten, eleven, twelve but back then it was sixteen – to stand in a public thoroughfare, outside a hotel, and scream at the top of your voice, particularly if a policeman had told you to move on and you had ignored him, was the most breathtakingly daring act that an adolescent could possibly engage in. So it was our coming of age. I mean, we caught up pretty quickly to the rest of the world after the Beatles but I once wrote that it was like knocking the scab off or lancing the boil of this stifling, conservativism that had built up and up and up and like I said, we sense that there was more, and once the Beatles arrived, my god, there was.

Demetrius Romeo: Could it have been anyone else, had the Beatles not been the ones to come and do it for us?

GLENN A. BAKER: It would have eventually happened, we would have been connected to the real world finally, but I think that it was the incredible potency of the Beatles. Remember, the Beatles were bowling people over all over the world.

The first stage of post-war explosion of youth culture was Elvis. Those kids born probably during the war, got to see Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, and when he shook his hips, that represented something to them. But by the 60s, they had even more disposable income, they had even more sense of their own identity as teenagers – there hadn’t been teenagers. Once upon a time you were a child, and then you went to work. The teenager thing just didn’t exist. But suddenly they were this group of people being catered to by advertiser and by radio, and so they had a sense of importance. And so those who hadn’t, I suppose, been swept up with the Elvis boom because they were too young, their time was in the early 60s when the Beatles arrived. There were vast numbers of them. I was part of it – the postwar baby boom. Huge, huge numbers of us waiting for something to come along – we didn’t know it at the time – and ignite us.

With the Beatles, I can remember – I’m telling you this personally; when the Beatles arrived in 1964, I was twelve years of age. But I was then so attuned to pop music and its power, to me, it was a window on the world. I used to go into a record shop, and I couldn’t afford to buy the singles, but the ones on Parlophone, which by 1965 were the Beatles, the Hollies, the Easybeats – they came in a buff-coloured paper bag, and it was enough for me to go to the racks and touch the bags. Touch those buff-coloured paper bags. And the electricity went through me. I can only tell you from my own perception of it that it was the most exciting thing imaginable.

Demetrius Romeo: But you’re Glenn A Baker; I’d expect you to have a story like that. What about the multitude of people, the thousands who were waiting for the Beatles. Was it having the same effect on them?

GLENN A. BAKER: It certainly was having the same effect. It was said that in concerts in Melbourne particularly for some reason, but also in Sydney, that it wasn’t just working class Western Suburbs kids; there were the daughters of socialites – the Rose Bay set – were out there as well. It had managed to cross all levels of society. The hysteria was real.

The New Zealand rocker Johnn Devlin, one of the support acts, told me that he recalled in Adelaide teenage girls lying down and smashing their heads into the concrete. Now you think about that – headbangers in the punk era, you don’t think in the civilized Australian society, where, by the way, the shows ended with ‘God Save the Queen’ and everybody stood up. It happened then.

I was once told by Johnny O’Keefe and Col Joye about the Australian days of rock n roll. They said, ‘people think we created it; we were swept up in it.’ He said, ‘there was this massive audience who just wanted to let themselves go and we happened to be the people who uncorked the bottle”. I think to a large extent, that was still in place by 1964: these were people who wanted to scream, who wanted to let out steam, and the fact that the Beatles were there was just a wonderful opportunity to do it.

Which is not to take away from the magnetism of the Beatles. They had this wonderful cockiness, a cheekiness that seems tame now, but remember all we’d ever had visiting here, even though Gerry & the Pacemakers beat them down, was the Vienna Boys Choir or Marlene Deitrich or the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and the media would sit there and politely ask them questions, and they would be politely given stock answers. But they’d sit down with the Beatles and it was, “Paul, what do you expect to find in Australia?” and John cuts in with “Australians!” “Are you millionaires?” “No, we pay too much tax; Her Majesty’s a millionaire!” Seemingly light-hearted banter like that was unheard of; people didn’t do that at press conferences. So there was a charm about them and a slight irreverence, even though they were wearing ties and white shirts. There was still something about them that spoke of another world that we still weren’t quite in step with.

Demetrius Romeo: Was part of their charm that they did have that ‘Goon Show’-type humour? The were being interviewed every day along the way to Australia and once they got here. Did they have enough to say for each of those interviews?

GLENN A. BAKER: I have gathered together all those interviews and believe me, they did have an enormous amount to say. You mention the Goons, and George Martin had been the Goons’ producer and John particularly, as we saw in his books ‘In His Own Write’ and ‘A Spaniard in the Works’ had a very ‘Goons’ sense of humour, and Paul was very bright and fast and sharp, and remember, these guys had spent months and months and months in Hamburg, Germany, one of the more ‘wordly’ cities and they had been playing six-hour sets into the wee hours; they were very much men of the world. They were no innocents from housing estates in Liverpool. They’d been around and they’d traveled, they were sharp, they were funny, and in a way I suspect they thought of us as colonials and I suspect they were enjoying it. You know what it’s like: if you get an audience and you think they’re paying attention to you, you go into a song-and-dance act with the straw hat and the cane.

Demetrius Romeo: Were we too naïve as an audience to know that we were being played?

GLENN A. BAKER: No, I think that’s over-stating it. But I will tell you one very interesting thing: there’s a television documentary that Channel 9 shot called ‘The Beatles Sing for Shell’ and in it John Lennon – who, by the way, on the roof of the Southern Cross Hotel, or the balcony, was doing Hitler impersonations, about which noone said a word – but on this TV special, if you ever see it, he actually does a spastic imitation. I mean, it’s actually quite good – no one says a word, there was no criticism, there was no question. Nobody wrote to a newspaper, nobody rang a radio station – he was a Beatle! He could do anything he wanted to do. And to that end, and I do not exaggerate when I say this – particularly in Adelaide – there were cripples brought into their presence so that the Beatles could lay their hands on them and presumably cure them. They took it that far. They did see them has having these powers almost.

John – as Bob Francis, the Adelaide DJ told me – John was kind of pretty inured to all this. He’d part the curtains, look at it all and go, ‘what the hell’s that?’ and play another round of cards and drink another scotch and that’s it. He said to Bob Francis, ‘we’re here, let’s make the most of it. This happens wherever we go.’ But the person who couldn’t handle it and didn’t want to handle it was George. George was found wandering around the South Australian hotel in the corridors, shaking his head, feeling very uncomfortable, feeling very claustrophobic, thinking, ‘how can we live up to this out there?’ Ringo was just – in all kindness – Ringo was just a happy-go-lucky fool. The luckiest man on earth. Ringo was older than the others. George was the youngest, George, who we would realise later had a very sensitive disposition, he was unsettled by it. He found the Australian reaction was more than he was ready to accept. Though he kept up a brave face most of the time.

But the Beatles had a certain protocol: no matter where they were in the world, they would never single it out. They would never say it was better than anywhere else. But that just got shredded: in Adelaide they were just standing there, going, ‘this is the greatest reception we have ever received. Nowhere in the world has been like this’. They were just gob-smacked by it.

What’s interesting too about the Beatles’ visit is that they spent three and a half weeks here. They spent three and a half weeks here in the most intense year of their careers – 1964. They had just finished filming ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ before they left, and had just finished writing and recording songs for the soundtrack. And they’d just been to America before that, and they had to go back to America. They had European tours beckoning. And yet, out of an old-world sense of honour on the part of Brian Epstein, they came here for fifteen hundred (1500) pounds a week. They played eight cities – thirty-two shows. They were being offered fifty thousand US a show at that time. They came here for fifteen hundred pounds a week. Because Brian Epstein had made a pledge, and said he would do it, and that’s how English gentlemen behaved. So we were so lucky to see them. We were incredibly fortunate that through the honour of one man – he put his honour above profit – that they did come down here.

And it’s interesting that, when they got back to England, you would have expected that they would have been gushing, that at every chance they got, they would have been going, ‘you wouldn’t believe what we’ve just come from, you can’t imagine what we’ve just seen…’ They never said a word. My theory of that is – and I’m sure Brian had something to do with that – if you go back to our country, England, and say ‘you don’t have a patch on those colonials at the bottom of the world’, that’s not gonna play at all. They’re not gonna want to know in Liverpool that they have a third of the numbers in the streets than you just had in Adelaide a few weeks ago; shtumm! Shut up. I’m convinced that that was the theory, that it wouldn’t have done them any good to go back and start gloating about what a reaction they’d actually received in Australia.

Demetrius Romeo: You were talking about the finances involved. There seemed to be a lot of people who wanted to make the Beatles part of their merchandising, without there actually being a proper merchandising system being in place at the time.

GLENN A. BAKER: Yes, the British Motor Corporation for example, providing vehicles, putting Beatle logos all over the cars, and Paul on one occasion getting so angry that he actually ripped it off, in Melbourne. He got angry about being taken advantage of.

Look, that was in the early days; nobody really knew what merchandising or marketing was. There’s the famous deal, it’s now in legend, when Brian went to America to do the marketing deal, and he told them that he was not willing to accept anything less than a ten percent stake, and they’re sitting there trying to hide their grins going, ‘is this guy for real?’. But nobody had seen that before, least of all humble Brits.

Demetrius Romeo: Was it the case that nobody had seen it before or was Brian Epstein a bit naïve?

GLENN A. BAKER: He could have been a little bit naïve. Even though he ran NEMS record shop, I don’t think he’d ‘sullied’ his hands in commerce too much; he wasn’t from that level of British society. In a way, it was ‘feel as you go’ on every level in Australia. On security, nobody knew what to do; with protecting the Beatles, nobody knew what to do; with marketing, nobody knew what to do; the whole thing was ‘make it up as you go along’. It was that wonderful organic quality that made it all so exciting. This wasn’t Svengalis and spin doctors putting it all together; this was something happening of its own accord.

I have a 2SM chart where they occupy positions one to six on the charts; all six positions. It permeated every level of Australian society. It changed us musically forever. We were into 50s rockers with greased hair and cabaret-type acts who played town halls. You had instrumental bands, mostly. But you think about it: within weeks of the Beatles leaving, suddenly every rock musician in town is growing his hair, if they were instrumental they’re getting a lead singer: the Whispers go and get Ray Brown, and the Playboys go and get Normie Rowe. In many cases it was a case of ‘let’s get as close as we can’: there were groups like the Cicadas and the Flies and they’re all making beat records.

Suddenly elastic-sided Cuban-heeled boots and collarless suits took on and we had beat music. Every second record… sorry, every single record in Austalia had a Beatlish sound.

Demetrius Romeo: There’s a story about Molly Meldrum getting chucked out of a gig. What’s the story there?

GLENN A. BAKER: Molly was screaming too loud; he was screaming louder than any girl and it freaked out the security and they threw he and Ronnie out. They remember weeping and bashing on the door saying ‘let us back in, let us back in’.

Demetrius Romeo: Did Australia ever go cold on the Beatles, like when they started to make it known that they were into drugs…

GLENN A. BAKER: No, I think we stayed loyal and affectionate and I think we were one of the more loyal markets. I think that was reflected when Paul came back in 76 with Wings, part of the ‘Wings over the World’ tour, with capacity audiences. We certainly didn’t burn their records like they did in American towns because of John’s comments about religion or anything like that. I think we were a little more sophisticated than that.

Demetrius Romeo: The amount of records sold per capita in Australia – how do we compare to the rest of the world?

GLENN A. BAKER: The interesting thing is that in the 80s there were more Beatles records sold every day than in the 60s, but proportionally per capita, we were certainly up there with Britain and America. It was a pretty consistent global phenomenon in that regard. It’s just that something urged Australians – and it wasn’t just kids, obviously: their parents, their uncles, their aunts, their dogs – to get out on the streets and see this.

Adelaide was an interesting thing. They weren’t supposed to go to Adelaide. Adelaide got added because the DJ I mentioned, Bob Francis, organized a petition that was one of the most staggeringly successful petitions of all time – hundreds of thousands of people signed it. And the Beatles saw an opportunity to make a bit more money because they were on that fifteen hundred pounds-a-week thing, which started out as a thousand pounds and pay your own accommodation, but it got bumped to fifteen hundred. They saw it as an opportunity to make a bit of money, so they agreed to do Adelaide provided that – I can’t remember what the exact nature of their take was – but they did a lot better out of Adelaide than anywhere else because it was added later.

Demetrius Romeo: Apart from freeing up youth emotion and giving them an outlet for expression, apart from permeating every facet of music beyond that – what was the lasting legacy of the Beatles’ tour of Australia?

GLENN A. BAKER: I believe it connected us to the top half of the world in a pivotal part of the second half of the twentieth century. It let us know that we weren’t so removed… if the Beatles would come here, my god, we must be part of the world. At the time, before they got here, old diggers were warning that the Indonesians were stirring up trouble and we might have to don khaki and go fight and everything. The world was as scary then as it is now, and there were conflicts throughout southeast Asia and we were watching our doorstep. There was a bit of a bunker mentality going on. But for those precious three-and-a-half weeks, you didn’t have to think of anything like that. You didn’t have to think about anything but ‘Love, love me do…’ It was that astonishingly timeless, evocative beat sound of theirs that still sounds timeless today; it was an effervescence and a cheerfulness and something that just swept us up.

One thing I will mention before we conclude is that Beatle crowds exceeded those for VE Day, VJ Day and any royal tour of Australia, and I remember thinking this as a kid: in a way, it was one in the eye for an older generation who had their world and it was royal tours and rolls royces and going by with metronomic hands, and there was our world, which was the Beatles, and our world beat their world! Our world for that moment stopped traffic and stopped cities and was on the front page of the press every day. It was something that just completely revitalized and energized a pretty staid and conservative world.

Demetrius Romeo: Before I let you go, I have one extra question I need to ask you.

GLENN A. BAKER: What’s that?

Demetrius Romeo: Did you get to a gig?

GLENN A. BAKER: No. I was twelve years of age and I lived in the country for a few years and it was not financially possible, and like I said, at twelve, you didn’t do too many things like go out to shows. I caught up later and was going out to the Stadium to see things like the Yardbirds, Roy Orbison, a wholoe bunch of people – but I never saw the Beatles except, like everyone else, in my red jarmies: I got up early in the morning at six o’clock on June 12 1964 and watched the plane land.

When I wrote the book, it was just automatically presumed that I must have been on the tour. Well, I’ve been on a great many tours since, but I was not on the Beatles’ tour. So I guess I wrote it from the perspective of its target audience, of someone who was just so enamoured of the Beatles and so electrified by their very presence.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think that the fact that you didn’t get to see them has had anything to do with you becoming Glenn A Baker, the rock journalist?

GLENN A. BAKER: You mean, all my life I’ve tried to make up for missing the Beatles? Perhaps that is the case. I really don’t know. I met a couple of the Beatles later and I truly wish I had, but maybe we should all have in our life something we didn’t actually do – but it looms there something that I didn’t do, but gee, I wish I had.

Demetrius Romeo: Glenn A. Baker, thank you very much.

GLENN A. BAKER: My pleasure.


Alex Lloyd’s Beautiful Music

Sometimes, when you do an interview, the best part of the interview takes place after the actual interview is over.

I met Alex Lloyd in a busy restaurant where he happened to be conducting all of the press regarding his new single Beautiful. Although we were able to overcome most of the ambient diner noise by huddling in the far corner, this happened to be the corner closest to gum trees that a flock of cockatoos decided to approach in a screeching frenzy somewhere towards the end of our chat. Despite them, we had a pretty good natter, after which we continued an informal discussion mostly off mic.

What happened was that I had noticed that all of the songs on Alex Lloyd’s albums were credited to ‘A Wasiliev’. I put it to the singer-songwriter that ‘Alex Wasiliev’ was in fact his real name. (More effective – in a kind of ‘cold war operative’ kind of way – would have been the name ‘Alexis Wasiliev’.) Turns out that ‘Wasiliev’ is the surname of Alex’s dad, a writer, and ‘Lloyd’ was the surname of his mother, an artist. Sadly, Alex’s mother passed away when Alex was a teenager. But his adoption of her surname is not merely a tribute: there is more to it than that. In Alex’s words, “as a writer, I have my father’s surname, ‘Wasiliev’, and as an artist, I have my mother’s surname, ‘Lloyd’.” A great anecdote. Adding to it was the comment that Alex and his dad didn’t always see eye-to-eye, that they are in contact more frequently now than they were earlier on, and the birth of Alex’s son Jake has brought Alex and his dad closer together.

Had I been on the ball, I would have ensured all of this was ‘on mic’; it would have brought not just a greater depth to the story, but more polish and style to its execution – developing the theme of songwriting and artistry, and ending, as it began, with talk of Alex’s son, Jake. However, as it stands, the conversation that was captured despite diners and cockatoos is still informative, and although it was broadcast a few weeks ago now, I present it here in honour of the national tour Alex Lloyd will commence on Friday 28 May.

Before I let you read the transcript, I’d like to point out the frequent presence in Alex’s music of what sounds like backwards guitar and percussion (you can spot them because, forwards, guitar notes and drum beats begin suddently and fade out gradually; backwards, they fade in gradually and stop suddenly). Lloyd is a self-confessed Beatles fan, particularly of their later, studio-based work (backwards guitars started appearing with songs like ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, from Revolver, and backwards percussion, onStrawberry Fields Forever). When I talk to him again, I will bring this up.

Music: ‘Beautiful’ – Alex Lloyd, from the album Distant Light and the ‘Beautiful’ single.

Demetrius Romeo: Alex, when your son was born recently you said that you wouldn’t be writing songs specifically from the ‘new dad’ point of view, but your new single ‘Beautiful’ seems to fit the bill perfectly. Was the presence of young Jake something that influenced that song as the choice for the new single?

ALEX LLOYD: No, not really. I’d always fancied ‘Beautiful’s chances of being a single. I kind of leave the decision of what’s going to be a single up to the record company, or at least, I have up to this point, but yes, it is very apt. You’re correct on that, that it just so happens that my little boy was born.

Music: ‘Beautiful’ – Alex Lloyd, from the album Distant Light and the ‘Beautiful’ single.

Demetrius Romeo: I notice with all your singles that there’s always a wealth of bonus tracks. Do you have a mammoth backlog of songs, or do you just write them all the time?

ALEX LLOYD: Well, with this particular single I really wanted to… I mean, they are sort of ‘throw together’ tunes, but I wanted to give something more than just a version of a song I did on radio or something like that, because, with Watching Angels Mend I did a lot of that – using those sort of songs as B-sides – because I didn’t have enough time. But I recently took a few months off and I just got creative and I had a few surplus songs so I thought, it’s about time I did a good singles package. I mean, they’re not cheap, are they? And you want to give people value for money.

Music: ‘What’s Wrong?’ – Alex Lloyd, from the album Distant Light

Demetrius Romeo: When you perform a show, is it hard to chose what songs will make up an Alex Lloyd set?

ALEX LLOYD: I can sort of play it by ear. I try to put as much variety into it as I can and just try to create a set that flows really nicely, and I thought it would be easier having three albums under my belt, but it’s actually making it harder because it’s like, ‘which ones do I leave out?’ or ‘which ones do I leave in?’ and there are people who come to the shows because you have three albums who are bigger fans of a specific album rather than another album, and if you don’t play their song, you kind of feel as though you’ve ripped them off.

Demetrius Romeo: That must be a bit of an issue at the moment, considering that Watching Angels Mend went double platinum and the new album, Distant Light is just getting to platinum now, even though it went gold in its first week of release. Does that pose a problem when playing to an audience?

ALEX LLOYD: When I tour a new album, I try not to just do the new album. I probably put half of a new album into a set. I don’t think sets should be too long, either. I think they should be a certain length that you expect people to stand around and watch a show. So I guess I just try to rotate it – if I didn’t get to play it the first night, maybe I’ll play it the second night. It’s luck of the draw, really.

Music: ‘Coming Home’ – Alex Lloyd, from the album Distant Light.

Demetrius Romeo: As an artist, how does it feel knowing that the last work has done so well and that you’ve got to come to the block again and start anew with the new one?

ALEX LLOYD: I try not to take that kind of stuff into the studio. You can’t help but some days think, ‘oh, is this any good?’ and go through moments of self-doubt. I think every artist would do that. I really try to make every album a new experience, if you know what I mean, and try to challenge myself as well, so I have plenty to think about; I don’t have to dwell on whether it’s gonna be as successful as the last one.

Music: ‘America’ – Alex Lloyd, from the album Distant Light.

Demetrius Romeo: I notice that all of your album titles have a ‘heavenly’ or ‘etherial’ angle to them: Black The Sun, Watching Angels Mend and Distant Light. Where are you coming from with your albums?

ALEX LLOYD: To be honest with you, all of them have been song titles from my albums. They’re kind of the songs that I feel sum up the albums best. In fact, one of the new b-sides on the ‘Beautiful’ single is a song called ‘Travelogue’ and I almost wish that I got it on the album because I know that it’s not the kind of song that I’m gonna do for my next record because I’ve already started writing that, so I had to use it. I think it sums up the record best, ‘Travelogue’, because essentially that’s what it is: it’s a travel diary. So, Distant Light, for better or worse, is a kind of a journey.

Music: ‘Travelogue’ – Alex Lloyd, from the ‘Beautiful’ single.

Demetrius Romeo: Alex Lloyd, thank you.

ALEX LLOYD: Thank you.

Music: ‘Travelogue’ – Alex Lloyd, from the ‘Beautiful’ single.

Perhaps 35,000 Slim Dusty Fans Don't Even Exist!

“A questionable accounting system in the Australian music industry has resulted in performers being awarded gold and platinum albums and singles before they have sold the required number of CDs to the public,” reported the Sunday Telegraph’s entertainment writer, Peter Holmes, on Sunday 14 March. Apparently, record labels tabulate sales by the amount of stock that leaves the warehouse, rather than what is bought over the counter and taken home by punters. This isn't like Beatles singles, at the height of Beatlemania, being awarded gold status prior to release because sufficient punters had ordered copies. Rather, since new releases are often sold into music shops on a sale-or-return basis (ie, they can be sent back if they don’t sell) it could well be the case that artists are awarded gold (for sales of 35,000 copies) or platinum (for sale of 70,000 copies) prior to selling that amount - or without ever having sold that amount.

One of the examples Holmes gives us if of the independent act the John Butler Trio, an act, Holmes tells us, that had just released their third album, Sunrise Over Sea. 50,000 copies were ordered by retailers across the nation. As Sebastian Chase (who works for MGM - the independent distributor handling the album) explains, on the first day of release, only about 25,000 copies would sell. Yet the album is already declared gold before it has actually gone sale. Except, of course, now that the album's been mentioned in a national paper, perhaps it will have earnt its gold status after all.

This reminds me of one of my favourite tales of rock ’n’ roll excess, about the Casablanca label in the 70s, as documented in Frederic Dannen's excellent expose on the dodgy practices of the music industry, Hitmen. Casablanca was an independent label set up by Neil Bogart, and its claim to fame was milking the disco trend and launching the recording career of Kiss. However, despite some hype-driven success which led to the multinational music corporation PolyGram buying into it, and losing out bigtime when Casablanca ran itself into the ground through incredible excess. Casablanca's first release was a compilation of comedy snippets from Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Despite the presence of Jerry Lewis, Lenny Bruce, the Smothers Brothers and Groucho Marx, the album was quite ordinary. Yet Bogart talked it up so big that distributors shipped massive quantities. And then the album stiffed, and all the copies were sent back. Forever more, Casablanca was known as the label that “shipped gold and returned platinum”.

Part of the reason why labels are keen to attribute sales before they have actually been made is because one way to get sales is to have them. Just as busy-looking shops and restaurants stay busy, albums that look as though they are selling a lot have a much better chance of continuing to sell a lot. Part of the reason is because when a song charts, it receives more airplay – even though more airplay is one of the reasons why a record charts. Thus, make it look like a lot of people are buying it, and, quite often, a lot of people end up buying it.

This doesn’t always work: there is another Casablanca story, about Bogart appearing on a late-night chat show with Cher, who was recording for the label at the time, in order to present her with a gold record for her single ‘Take Me Home’. In the United States, an album has to sell 500,000 copies to attain gold status; a single has to sell a million copies! ‘Take Me Home’ had sold maybe 700,000 copies. The following day, PolyGram received a frantic call from Bogart’s lackeys, insisting that they press and ship another 300,000 copies of the single, so as not to make Bogart a liar. As there had been no new orders for the additional 300,000 copies, PolyGram had to wear a hefty loss.

In the case of Slim Dusty’s postumous Columbia Lane achieving gold status after a week of release, we can breath easy. It debuted at number 5 in the charts at the same time, and as the charts are compiled from actual over-the-counter sales, there probably are 35,000 Aussie households giving Slim a spin!

The Hoodoo Gurus Mach Schau


(Legendary Aussie rock band The Hoodoo Gurus appeared in the early 80s as a riff-laden combo who knew how to make fantastically infectious singles and great albums. By 1997, while still at the top of their game, they decided to call it a day. In 2001 they got back together to play the summer Homebake festival. At the beginning of this year they played the Big Day Out. Somewhere inbetween, three quarters of the band started making music under the name The Persian Rugs. Now the Hoodoo Gurus return with a fine new album entitled Mach Schau[1], quite possibly their best album yet. I caught up with Dave Faulkner, the Hoodoo Gurus’ principle songwriter and frontman, and his lead guitarist and partner-in-crime Brad Shepherd, at the offices of EMI Australia to compile this piece for ABC NewsRadio, broadcast Saturday 28 March. Starting and ending with ‘What’s My Scene’ may, once again, appear crass and obvious, yet, once again, it is the perfect song for the story.)

Music: ‘What’s My Scene’ – The Hoodoo Gurus

Demetrius Romeo: In recent years there’ve been a lot of bands that have been doing the twenty-year nostalgia reunion thing. Obviously, the Hoodoo Gurus aren’t part of this because they existed throughout the 80s and into the 90s. What brings them back together now?

DAVE FAULKNER: We were just missing the good fun we were having. We played a couple of years ago for the Homebake show in Sydney and had a great night and people seemed to enjoy it. We certainly did. It was the case of, ‘what’s stopping this except our own lack of…’ – or, in my case, me saying, ‘I didn’t want to do it’ because I said I wouldn’t. We’d broken up; it was gone. But it was too strong – it just came back out of the grave.

Demetrius Romeo: Brad, in your words, why did the Hoodoo Gurus ever come to an end?

BRAD SHEPHERD: It’s pretty boring: it was almost ‘musical differences’, wasn’t it! We never discussed this, but it seemed to the rest of us that Dave was disappearing into clubland a bit, and we didn’t know what we were gonna do. The Hoodoo Gurus couldn’t really address that as a band. We were just a noisy guitar band.

DAVE FAULKNER: That’s just not true. I’m the principal writer and I thought that our last album – In Blue Cave – was fantastic and I actually thought I had no more ideas. I just felt ‘written out’ and we’d been in the band for so long – seventeen years, or sixteen years – and I thought, well gee, am I going to be a 'one-trick pony'? I think I had a little mini midlife crisis, to be honest. I thought, well, what else is out there? I just don’t think I can keep the machine running. Then I was away for a while to recharge the batteries and was writing songs for no reason and of course they were yelling out for the Hoodoo Gurus without me realising. They were these rock songs that the Hoodoo Gurus just ate up. The album was a result.

BRAD SHEPHERD: It’s pretty satisfying to be able to say, ‘we don’t care about the rules; no rules, we don’t care.’ We can break up and say ‘never again’ and we can also go, ‘well, you know, forget it, we’ll get back together and play because we want to.’

Demetrius Romeo: There was a reference there to you ‘disappearing into clubland’, Dave. [Faulkner and Shepherd both laugh] I want to know more about your ‘clubland’ phase.

DAVE FAULKNER: Well, I didn’t really ‘disappear into clubland’. I did do an album immediately after the Hoodoo Gurus finished, called ‘Antenna’, with Kim Salmon, who’s just produced our new album, and a couple of the guys from a little electronic group called Southend. It really was something I felt like doing for fun. It was just a little hobby project. I call it a ‘busman’s holiday’. It was a bit sort of ‘alternative’ electronic stuff, but it was never meant to be my ‘new direction’ or anything. It was just something to fool around with that wasn’t like the Hoodoo Gurus. That’d be pointless: why would I reform a rock ’n’ roll band when I had the best one I knew of?

Demetrius Romeo: Which leads me to my next question! There was a band that consisted of three quarters of the Hoodoo Gurus called 'The Persian Rugs'. How do they differ to the Hoodoo Gurus?

DAVE FAULKNER: We’re all big fans of music and one particular era really gets me going, and I know Brad loves it too: the 60s psychedelic era. ‘Mid 60s punk’, they call it. The Persian Rugs is just designed to be a band that recreates that genre. That’s an influence on the Hoodoo Gurus generally but we have so much more in the Hoodoo Gurus that we draw from. But the Persian Rugs are really just trying to be focused on being that: pretending that it’s actually 1966 again.

BRAD SHEPHERD: I think that what Dave’s saying is correct: there’s almost a philosophy that we have to employ in the Persian Rugs, that we have to actively ignore anything that happened in music after about 1969, and thus maintain some of the naiveté of that era of garage rock. Whereas, with the Gurus, that’s certainly influential, but then there’s 50s rock ’n’ roll and 70s glam and 70s punk and…

DAVE FAULKNER: 80s hair metal! [Laughing] We’ve got everything!

BRAD SHEPHERD: [Also laughing] Foreigner! Or… R.E.O. Speedwagon!

DAVE FAULKNER: Or grunge. We don’t care. It just sounds like a rocking band playing today. We don’t try and have any sort of ‘hallmarks’, an era, to brand our sound as anything in the Gurus, whereas the Rugs are actively only using the equipment from that era, the style of recording, you name it, we’re really being purist about it.

Music: ‘Bad News’ – The Persian Rugs

Demetrius Romeo: I see all of these elements coming together in the new Hoodoo Gurus album, which is called Mach Schau, which is a reference to something someone used to say to the Beatles in clubs in Germany when they were starting out.

DAVE FAULKNER: That’s true. You’re the first person we haven’t had to explain that to. It’s sort of a slogan we’ve adopted from the Beatles. When you’ve got to get up on stage…

BRAD SHEPHERD: It’s the musician’s life, really, isn’t it.

DAVE FAULKNER: Yeah, when the drunks come to the door and are not sure whether they want to enter the bar, the owner’s yelling to the band, ‘rev it up!’, you know, ‘get excited’ so the punters come in. We always tell ourselves ‘mach schau!’ before a show. ‘Let’s get out there and mach schau!’ Go and perform! It’s a bit like Pagliacci: ‘on with the motley!’

Music: ‘Nothing’s Changing My Life’ – The Hoodoo Gurus

Demetrius Romeo: Dave, tell me about the first single off the album, ‘Nothing’s Changing My Life’.

DAVE FAULKNER: Speaking of the Persian Rugs, and going back to the 60s, I kind of went a little bit later than that: I was thinking a bit ‘glam rock’. Of course it doesn’t sound like that. Because it’s the Hoodoo Gurus, when we record it, we kind of make our own thing out of it. But that was kind of what I had half in my mind. It’s just me basically telling myself off – again! – for my procrastination on all the different issues in life that I should be dealing with that I’m letting take care of themselves, and they never do.

Music: ‘Penelope’s Lullaby’ – The Hoodoo Gurus

Demetrius Romeo: Brad, tell me about the lovely lullaby that ends the album.

BRAD SHEPHERD: Um… it’s something that you might expect a new father to do. I have a little girl who’s two years old and I suppose if you can play a guitar something obvious you would do is write a lullaby for your child. So, yeah, there’s no real spectacular story about it. I’m sure musicians the world over do it. It’s very much in keeping with ‘Goodnight’ by the Beatles, or something like that.

Music: ‘Penelope’s Lullaby’ – The Hoodoo Gurus

Demetrius Romeo: Given the new album doing well, when will the Hoodoo Gurus start ‘maching schau’ across Australia?

DAVE FAULKNER: In about two weeks time, we’re pretty much going everywhere that NewsRadio goes. If your listeners keep an eye out for us, we’ll be around somewhere.

BRAD SHEPHERD: We’re just going everywhere. Coming to a town near you!

Demetrius Romeo: Fantastic! Gentlemen, thank you very much.

DAVE FAULKNER: No worries, see you soon.


Music: ‘What’s My Scene’ – The Hoodoo Gurus

1 ‘Mach schau!’, German for ‘Make show!’ (a translation I foolishly forget to mention in the body of the interview), is what club owner Bruno Koschmider used to shout at the Beatles during their residency at the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, Germany. Good thing, too; it’s what led to the band developing its chops, and so going on to conquer the world. back

David Bowie story for ABC NewsRadio


I put this story together from a series of answers David Bowie gave to questions I didn’t have an opportunity to ask, at the Sydney press conference, Monday 16 February 2004. It was broadcast Saturday 21 February. The dialogue is book-ended with the songs ‘Changes’ – yes, a bit crass and predictable, but it actually suits the story – and ‘Try Some Buy Some’. I also managed to recycle info for a FilmInk version of the article. You can also listen to the story as you read.

Music: ‘Changes’ - David Bowie

Demetrius Romeo: David Bowie’s been making music for the better part of forty years. His career has been punctuated by embracing various musical genres – from cockney music hall to glam rock to soul to heavy metal – and his bringing to life numerous characters on stage and on record, including Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Now David Bowie’s role is as a family man. After ten years of marriage to super model Iman, David’s a dad again, and, he says, he quite likes the role.

DAVID BOWIE: I mean I only got married because I was in a place that felt right about getting married, so I think that the change in me probably started a lot longer before. You know what I mean? I didn’t get married and suddenly I changed, I felt that I was, uh… I just felt that emotionally and mentally, I seemed to have come to a place where I felt grounded and I understood a lot more about myself and my immediate environment and how things are for me and how I react to things and all that. A lot better than I ever did before: and my writing has taken a turn for the positive, which, I think, if I were not married, and if things were as traumatic as they had been over the last few years, and being at the age that I am, I can quite see that I would have easily have found myself falling over into far more pessimistic, negative, even nihilistic frame of mind in my writing. And I do have to be careful; it’s very easy for me. I really swing. I can vascillate between very good moods and very bad moods, you know.

Demetrius Romeo: It seems that the contentment that David Bowie has with being himself in real life coincides with a contentment in being himself on stage. This is an underlying theme of Reality, his latest album, and his current tour. So, does the absence of the colourful characters on the stage and in the music rule them out of David Bowie’s future work?

DAVID BOWIE: I think it’s wise to say ‘never say never’, but I’m very happy as a performer doing what I’m doing at the moment. It’s never been so clean and so unencumbered with anything. It’s just a very simple performance in that way: I’m up with there with my really, really, great, strong band and we’re just interpreting my songs that I’ve done over the last thirty-five years. But I love writing little theatrical things and I can see it in the future as something I might want to do. Whether I’d be in it or not, I don’t know, these days, maybe not.

Demetrius Romeo: David Bowie has had an acting career running parallel to his music career. But, he says, the acting doesn’t seem as important these days.

DAVID BOWIE: I’d love to be a movie star, you know, and have my name on posters and photographs forty foot high and all that. But you’ve got to work so hard at it, the acting and all that you gotta do. And that really takes up time and I don’t think I’ve got a commitment to it, really. It’s great being offered little cameos now, which is generally what I have always been offered. I’ve had a couple of larger roles. But I don’t think I’m serious enough about it, and quite rightly, that’s why I’m not offered a huge amount of stuff to do because it’s not my profession, and it’s just wonderful if somebody like a Scorsese says, ‘do you want to wander on and do Pontius Pilate for five minutes?’ ‘Yes, smashing, what a crack that’ll be just to do that!’ I still choose anything that I do on the strength of the director. If it’s somebody that I really admire, or it’s a new guy and I think, ‘he really looks like he’d be interesting to work with’, I generally go on that. But Russell can sleep safely…

Demetrius Romeo: One place David Bowie does continue to engage in role-playing is in the performance of other people’s songs. Throughout his career, Bowie has frequently recorded cover versions, and there are three on the tour version of his current CD, Reality. One of them turns out to be an inadvertent tribute to George Harrison, ‘Try Some, Buy Some’.

Music: ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ - David Bowie

DAVID BOWIE: Ironically, I didn’t know it was a George Harrison song. Well, I must have known, but it never went in. For me it was the Ronnie Spector single that came out in 1974. And I knew it was the last – I think it was the last – single released by Apple Records at that particular time before it folded. It was just a phenomenal single. It didn’t do anything because I think Apple had run out of money, so they couldn’t promote it. Sounds like 2004, doesn’t it! I truly love the single; I thought it was just a wonderful piece of work. It was only when I was writing out all the data for the album cover that I recognised it as a George Harrison song. Course it is! It rather poignantly became an homage to George without actually trying… oh, you know what I mean.

Music: ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ - David Bowie


It Was Twenty Years Ago Next Year


British music mag Mojo has started re-issuing classic books about rock, and I picked up their edition of The Longest Cocktail Party by Richard di Lello. Before going on to be a screenwriter of such shows as Midnight Caller and the film Colours, Richard di Lello was the assistant to Derek Taylor, the Press Officer of Apple Records. When Apple went bust, di Lello decided to write The Longest Cocktail Party as the first ‘insider’s story’ of the end of the Beatles.

I’d actually read the book before, having picked up a cheap paperback copy for a buck in Woolies when I was a kid. I was in Year 8 when I read it. Reading it again, I realised that so many of the shorthand clichés and descriptions in rock journalese that I have been using throughout my life are things I’d pilfered from this book, in particular the off-the-cuff glib witticisms of Derek Taylor. When John Lennon started turning weird, for example, the press was utterly mystified by the behaviour of the formerly loveable moptop. Now he was gallivanting around with an eccentric Asian artist and appearing naked on album covers. Taylor staved off initial press enquiries into Lennon’s behaviour thus: “He was what he was then, he is what he is now, and he will be what he will be when the time comes for him to be whatever it is he’s going to be.”

I remember this quote in particular because I pinched it for an Year 8 English assignment in 1985. We had to devise and market a band, and in this instance, the phrase was uttered by Ricky Clothesmaker ('Ricky' being a diminutive of 'Derek' while a 'clothesmaker' was also known as a 'tailor', of course), who served as publicist to the band Psychedelic Spew.

Created in collaboration with classmates Nick O'Sullivan and Ben Reynolds, Psychedelic Spew were significant for riding the crest of that wave of late 60s ‘Summer of Love’ nostalgia from way out into the ocean. If you recall, that wave didn’t really hit until 1987 (when the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was re-released with the ‘It was twenty years ago today’ campaign, and when the Good Weekend, then an A4 glossy, was adorned with a proofsheet of Sgt Pepper cover photo outtakes.) In 1985 the Doors were starting to get big again; the previous year, they’d sold more records than they had during the entire time they were together. And remember, the Doors were the dags of psychedelia, getting into it when, even for West Coast bands in America, the Summer of Love had well and truly turned, thanks to Charlie Manson and his Family, into an horrific winter of discontent. Indeed, even Oliver Stone’s Platoon’, the first of the big ’80s ’Nam cash-ins featuring ‘music from the period’ soundtracks by the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix, was still a couple of years away. So without even trying, Nick, Ben and I tapped into a major marketing bonanza before it had really hit.




Further details of Psychedelic Spew are sketchy, but I remember bandmembers included Fenderbaker Vox and Sapidus Brown. Fenderbaker Vox seemed to derive his moniker from two sources: his first name is a corrupted amalgamation of Fender and Rickenbacker, two popular makes of electric guitar (probably a mistaken attempt to name Fender's ‘stratocaster’), while his surname was inspired by Bono Vox of U2 (a stage name that roughly translates from the Latin as ‘Good Voice’). That ‘Vox’ was also a popular brand of guitar amplifier favoured by the Beatles (the Marshall stacks, that would have made the band audible above the din of screaming fans, must not have been perfected prior to the end of the Beatles’ live tours in 1966) was probably why his first name was an attempt to name a guitar. As for Sapidus Brown, he was the band’s mysterious fourth member. A shady character, his features were always occluded in band photos and performances, thanks to wide-brim hats and judicious use of lighting. The only other factoid I remember about Psychedelic Spew is that their song ‘Living in Scandinavia with David’ was wrongfully banned for the apparent ‘LSD’ reference in its title; it was clearly just a song about life on the road, having toured Scandinavia with David Bowie in the mid-'70s.

Apart from these memories, sparked by a couple of clever turns of phrase in the book, was the sudden recollection that I still had a copy of one of Psychedelic Spew’s singles, in a picture cover: ‘Across the Spewniverse’, with ‘Spewberry Fields Forever’ on the flip side. It was initially issued with a brown paper bag since, as the story goes, the quality of the music tended to lead to regurgitation. I can’t find the original paper bag. But here are some scans of the artwork.