Northern Tablelands 2: Live Entertainment History [1880-1970 and 1990 -]

The Australia pub rock era is generally regarded as occurring between the early 1970s and the mid-late 1980s. During that period a strong music scene emerged in the Northern Tablelands. This page is a work in progress that will attempt to provide a brief historical insight into the music scenes that emerged within the various townships in the region prior to the pub rock era, and hence served to create a foundation for later growth.

 

Contents

1.       Regional Overview: Pre-1970s Live Entertainment History
2.      Armidale
3.      Glen Innes
4.      Uralla
5.      Regional Overview: Post 1990 Live Entertainment History
6.      Further Reference

 

 

1. Regional Overview: Pre-1970s Live Entertainment History

The history of entertainment in the Northern Tablelands dates back well into the late 1800s. Musical entertainments performed by local amateurs were the mainstay of the various communities, and ranged from sacred concerts, classic performances and variety theatre – initially minstrelsy and later vaudeville.  A few of these centres had by the early 1900s become part of the annual show circuit. These travelling entertainment spectaculars provided a wide variety of shows, including theatrical productions, exhibits, equestrian events, musical performances (and by the 1910s the exhibition of moving pictures).

Harry Clay

During the 1880s the Great Northern Train Line began allowing faster access to the region (the line finally extended to the Queensland border in 1888), thus providing greater opportunities for travelling entertainers to visit those communities along the line. The small populations, however, tended to see the larger and more reputable companies by-pass most of the towns as they made their north to Brisbane, Toowoomba and the lucrative Queensland coastal centres. These same companies when returning south also invariably made their way directly back to Newcastle or Sydney to complete their tour schedules. One of Australia’s leading vaudeville proprietors Harry Clay did not begin plying his trade in the Northern Tablelands, for example, until around 1917-1918, despite having travelled through the region by train  since 1901 to undertake the Queensland leg of his annual NSW/Queensland circuit.

Peter Allen (Back Right) with guitar: 1956 Spotlight Parade *

Peter Allen (R) with guitar: 1956 Spotlight Parade †

The most famous entertainer to emerge from the Northern Tablelands was undoubtedly Peter Allen. Born Peter Richard Woolnough at Tenterfield in 1944, Allen later lived in Armidale where he attended the local high school. He taught himself to sing and play piano, and learned to tap dance in the building which is now the Folk Museum. Even before reaching his teens he regularly entertained the patrons of the New England Hotel’s Ladies Lounge.   Eileen Kelly (the daughter of Armidale dance teacher Claire Napier) recalls in an ABC “Local Stories”  interview with Jennifer Ingle that Allen and some of her mother’s students performed around the regions, and that he also formed a band called “The Skiffle Group” which used to play in a local hotel (possibly Mann’s New England Hotel).  Allen of course went on to become a major US-based singer/songwriter, releasing more than a dozen albums and having his songs covered by numerous people. His classic songs (including collaborations) are: “Tenterfield Sadler,” “I Still Call Australia Home,” “I Go to Rio,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud” “The More I See You,” “I Honestly Love You“,” and “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do). [For further details on Peter Allen’s life and career see Peter Allen ]

Dingo (1974) †

Another well-known performer who originally came from the Tablelands was Gary Shearston.  Best known for his hit cover of the Cole Porter classic “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Born at Inverell in 1939 into a musical family, he spent his childhood at Tenterfield on his grandfather’s farm (later evoking this period in the song ‘Shopping on a Saturday’).  Shearston moved to Sydney with his parents in the early 1950s, following the devestating northern NSW drought, and in the 1960s became a central figure in the city’s emerging foll scene. He hosted his own national television show, Just Folk, and spent a year in London. One of his songs “Sometime Lovin’” was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, who later invited him to the USA, where he spent some four years. He returned returned to England in 1972 and recorded some songs for the album, Dingo (which features the Porter cover). In 1990 Shearston was awarded the Tamworth Songwriters’ Association’s award for ‘Bush Ballad of the Year.’ [For further details see the Gary Shearston official website and The Malcolm J. Turnbull Archive hosted by Warren Fahey’s Folklore Unit.]

Mike McClellan

The Armidale Teachers’ College/College of Advanced Education and the University of New England have also been a source of entertainment opportunities as well as serving as training grounds for up and coming entertainers within both the student or the general population. In the early 1960s, for example, Mike McClellan learned guitar while studying to be a teacher. He soon began playing it while singing pop tunes with the college band. After graduating he moved to Sydney and became a central figure in the emerging folk scene. McClellan didn’t forget the important role that Armidale played in his musical development, however. He returned on an almost yearly basis throughout the ’70s to perform at various venues in the city and at the University of New England. [For further details on McClellan’s life and career see his entry in Artists/Bands: M-R or his official website – Mike McClellan .

In the wake of the British invasion, led by The Beatles (which toured Australia in 1964), The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Who, countless Australian teenage males were inspired to take up musical instruments from the mid-1960s onwards in the hope of becoming rock and roll stars in their own country. Countless  bands  in the capital cities began to  move from garage rehearsals to gigs and eventually to regional and even national tours  – either on their own or on multiple bills. Regional areas like the Northern Tablelands also began producing their own bands from the mid-1960s onwards – those such as  Generation and Mantra (Armidale), The Boomerangs and Titanics (Glen Innes) and The Union Jack, In Sect, Finx and Firebirds (Uralla). Tony Jaggers recalls that the best of them might find  themselves elevated to local hero status by playing support to the likes of The Valentines, The Flying Circus, Normie Rowe, Johnny Farnham, The La Di Das, The Executives, Cleves, The Groove and Jon Blanchfield. Jaggers also recalls an Easybeats gig at the Armidale Town Hall which his band was to have played support (possibly 1969). The Easybeats were forced to cancel at the last moment, but three of its members – Tony Cahill, Stevie Wright and Harry Vanda – turned up anyway and jammed with the local band, much to the audience’s delight.

Sources:  Clay Djubal (2010) • Tony Jaggers (correspondence, Nov. 2010).  Images: Harry Clay photo courtesy of Clay Djubal • Peter Allen photo courtesy of Eileen Kelly – from ABC New England North West NSW: Local Stories (online): “Peter Allen’s Armidale”  • Mike McClellan photo from An Evening with Mike McClellan – Live (1978) • Gary Shearston photo by Peter Christopherson (Hipgnosis), courtesy of Gary Shearston.com.

 

2. Armidale

Pop and rock bands began to appear in Armidale in the early 1960s. One of the first of these early groups was Firebirds, which formed at Armidale High School around 1963/1964.  A few years later Neil ‘Nobby’ Aubrey, who as a student at The Armidale School (TAS) occasionally played keyboards with Firebirds, began jamming with a fellow TAS student Laurie Wheaton. When Aubrey moved to Armidale High School in 1967 he (and Wheaton) began a friendship with Tony Jaggers (The Union Jack and In Sect) that led to the forming of Generation [see Artists/Bands: D-G].

  • See 1960s Northern Tablelands Artists and Bands [PDF] for further details relating to: Neil Aubrey, Firebirds and Tony Jaggers.
Source: Tony Jaggers (correspondence, Nov. 2010).

 

3. Glen Innes

The Musical history of Glen Innes dates back to the late 1870s when the town had a Municipal brass band. By the late 1950s the band comprised more than 30 musicians, but following its disbanding in 1971 the responsibility for training musicians was taken over by the local high school.  The strength of the town’s musical community is demonstrated by the fact that the orchestra for a pantomime staged in the Town Hall in 1939 comprised 9 musicians, including 3 violinists. By the mid-1950s the town could still supply a ten piece orchestra for musicals put on by the Glen Innes Arts Council.  The pre-war era also saw dance music provided a local quartet, including Peter O’Brien (sax), the Litchfield sisters and Alf Hunt.

Glen Innes Town Hall

In his 2001-02 article “The Music of Glen Innes,” Bill Hughes records that the town had at least three dance bands during the 1940s and 1950s. Two other groups from this period were Bert de Frane’s Old Time Dance Band and the Modern Rhythm Band.  Most Friday nights there was ‘a Ball in the Town Hall and regular dances at the various other clubs,’ writes Hughes. Two popular bands dating dating back to the 1950s were the Jazz Katz (believed to have remained active up until the late 1970s) and The Hi Fi’s.

Founded in 1957 and continuing on until 1971, The Hi Fi’s peak years, according to Bill Hughes, were 1960-1963. During that period the band played more than 150 gigs in venues as far away as Armidale, Inverell, Guyra, Warialda and Glencoe, playing more than. The Hi Fi’s repertoire was largely pre-1950s material, although as Hughes (the band’s drummer) notes: ‘We did venture into “Rock Around the Clock” before retirement” (pp. 9-10).

An annual jazz festival was run as part of the Rose Festival between 1958 and 1968, growing from four to around thirteen over this period. By the late 1960s several rock and roll bands had formed in the town, the most notable being The Titanics (see Artists/Bands: T-Z) and The Boomerangs.  This move towards guitar-orientated rock music was due in large part to the advent of rock ‘n’ roll and the influence of television. According to Terry Gordon, The Boomerangs  can lay claim to  winning the local region’s heats of the Hoadley National Battle of the Sounds  during that competition’s first year (1966). By the early to mid-1970s the town also boasted a heavy metal band, Rails (which included Graham ‘Fritz’ Krielser on guitar). Neil Osborne recalls that when his band Sundown played Glen Innes over the summer of early 1973 it had two main venues operating for much of the year – the Royal and the Boomerang.

Music was also later featured in the town’s annual Beardies Festival, which traditionally runs for 11 days in November and famously includes a beard competition. By the mid-1980s the Festival began to include a bush band championships. In 1990 the running of this competition was taken over by Rob and Rijke Stack. It was subsequently established it as a separate event, and rescheduled for the October long weekend and renamed The Australian Bush Music Festival. In addition to traditional bush and folk groups the new festival included aboriginal music, dance, poetry, bush dances, workshops, comedy shows and later shearing competitions, yard dog trials and special concerts. Although only running for five years the Bush Music Festival nevertheless increased its attendance from 425 in the first year to over 15,000 in 1995.  The awards section alone were attracting more than 70 entries by 1992.

Sources: Bill Hughes, “The Music of Glen Innes.” Land of the Beardies History House Bulletin 28 (2001-02), 9-10  •  Brian Moore (interview, Nov. 2010 – re: Terry Gordon/The Boomerangs)  •  Rijike Stack – email to Eve Chappell, Glen Innes and District Historical Society (11 March 2006) .

 

4. URALLA

Two of the earliest rock bands to emerge out of Uralla were In Sect and The Union Jack.  In Sect, which formed in 1965, comprised Tony Jaggers (guitar/vocals), Craig Vaughan (bass) and Noel McCrae (vocals). The band never had a permanent drummer, being forced to rely on the availability of several locals. In Sect often hired halls to play its own gigs, with one of its most popular being the basement under the Armidale Town Hall.

After In Sect disbanded, Tony Jaggers  co-founded The Union Jack with Robbie Paulson (bass), Neil Hunt (drums) and Denny Goodhew (guitar). The band played together for most of 1966, but fell apart when Jaggers gained his drivers’ license and began hanging out in Armidale more often.  In 1967 he  co-founded Generation. with Neil Aubrey,  Laurie Wheaton and occasional In Sect drummer John Patterson.

  • See 1960s Northern Tablelands Artists and Bands [PDF] for further details relating to: In Sect, Tony Jaggers and The Union Jack.
Source: Tony Jaggers (correspondence, Nov. 2010). Images: In Sect reunion photo courtesy of Tony Jaggers

 

5. REGIONAL OVERVIEW: POST-1990 LIVE ENTERTAINMENT HISTORY

 

6. FURTHER REFERENCE

  • Djubal, Clay. Harry Clay and Clay’s Vaudeville Company – 1865-1925: An Historical and Critical Survey.” MA Thesis, University of Qld, 1997.
  • Journal and Proceedings, Armidale and District Historical Society Journal (1964-1995)
  • Land of the Beardies History House Bulletin (1972- )
  • Neucleus (1970-1994)
  • Turnbull, Malcolm J. “Malcom J. Turnbull Archive” (q.v.). In Warren Faye’s Australian Folklore Unit, 2006.
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    Northern Tablelands Music Industry Archive

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