Before I immigrated to Australia, hit records by Australian artists were few and far between in the United Kingdom. My first recollection of an Australian record was Slim Dusty’s ‘Pub With No Beer’ when it reached number three in the UK in June 1959, but it was number one in my home country Northern Ireland. Slim Dusty’s balladeering style was similar to the Irish pub singers and the song was perfect for the many party goers then.
The next Aussie recording artist I recall is one they don’t like to talk about these days, but Rolf Harris was a big TV personality who had a few big hits in the UK, with ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport’ reaching number nine in 1960 and ‘Sun Arise’ number three in 1962. However, his biggest hit was in 1969 when ‘Two Little Boys’ reached the top spot.
The Seekers were the surprise group during the ’60s beat scene with eight top 10 records in the UK charts between 1965 and 1967, two of which reached number one, ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’ and ‘The Carnival Is Over’. Although The Bee Gees were a tremendous success they were actually British returning from Australia and their hits in the ’60s were recorded in the UK.
However, another Aussie band arrived in the UK with an impressive list of hits. The Easybeats had a huge hit with one of the most iconic songs ever ‘Friday On My Mind’, which was voted by Australian Performing Rights Association in 2001 as the best Australian record.
The night before we left London for Sydney my cousin took me and my wife to the local pub to see a band called Edison Lighthouse who had recorded ‘Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes’ and we thought they were great (my wife’s name is Rose-Marie). Ironically it reached number one in the UK shortly after we left, their only top 10 hit.
When I arrived in Sydney with my wife and two children and installed in the Endeavour Hostel in South Coogee, my knowledge of Australian recording artists was minimal and the top 10 contained only three local acts. Along with other British immigrant families we would walk down to the Coogee Bay Hotel and sit in the beer garden and listen to the local DJ playing records but live music was very scarce.
1. ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, ohnny Farnham (Australian)
2. ‘Penny Arcade’, Roy Orbison
3. ‘Suspicious Minds’, Elvis Presley
4. ‘Something/Come Together’, The Beatles
5. ‘Picking Up Pebbles’, Matt Flinders (Australian)
6. ‘And When I Die’, Blood Sweat and Tears
7. ‘Take A Letter Maria’, RB Greaves
8. ‘Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son’, Creedence Clearwater Revival
9. ‘Holly Holy’, Neil Diamond
10. ‘Arkansas Grass’, Axiom (Australian)
John Farnham immigrated with his family to Australia from England in 1959 when he was 10 years old. By January 1970 he was on the first leg of a long and illustrious career in the Australian entertainment business.
Matt Flinders, although born in Egypt, also immigrated from England with his family in 1951.
Axiom’s formation was a direct by-product of the annual Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds and the kamikaze assaults on the UK. When 1967 winners The Groop broke up soon after their return to Australia in May 1969, the previous winners The Twilights had already scattered in all directions. The plan was to form a new group from the two group’s frontline remnants. Brian Cadd and Don Mudie came from The Groop, Glenn Shorrock from The Twilights and were joined by session musicians Chris Stockley and Doug Lavery who was later replaced by Don Leber.
Their first single ‘Arkansas Grass’ was heavily influenced by the United States group The Band and reached number seven in Australia. In April 1970 Axiom departed for England after releasing their second single ‘A Little Ray Of Sunshine’.
Other Australian artists who decided on the ill-fated trip to the UK for stardom at this time included Billy Thorpe, The Masters Apprentices, and Ross Wilson.
Trying to imitate the success of the rock festivals in the US, Woodstock and Monterey as well as the UK’s Isle Of Wight, Australia’s first outdoor rock festival was held in Ourimbah, New South Wales the weekend we arrived (Australia Day weekend). Rumours were sweeping Sydney that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were coming to open the festival but of course they did not make it. The artists included Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, Doug Parkinson In Focus, Jeff St. John and Copperwine, Tamam Shud, Wendy Saddington, Max Merritt and The Meteors. Stevie Wright debuted his short-lived new band Rachette. Up to 10,000 people attended the festival.
In early 1970 the live music scene venues in Sydney consisted of Town Halls, supervised Police Boys Clubs, and an increasingly viable pub circuit. The resurgence in the basic rock ‘n’ roll format of loud lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums provided performers with the opportunity to re-fashion the beat of the fifties and ’60s style rhythm and blues.
The brash suggestive front man persona of Johnny O’Keefe gave way to vocalists like Billy Thorpe, Jimmy Barnes and Doc Neeson, incidentally all immigrants.