Featuring revealing interviews with the members of AC/DC and other chart-topping acts, this chronicle profiles the careers of Australia’s top songwriters, producers, and star-makers: Harry Vanda and George Young. From their partnership as members of Easybeats to their diverse range of hits—including "Friday on My Mind," "She’s So Fine," and "Love is in the Air"—this inspirational account demonstrates how Vanda and Young harnessed the raw energy and power of Aussie pub rock to become legendary musicians.
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About the Author
John Tait is a writer and the owner of Essendon 2nd Hand, a secondhand record and book shop in Melbourne, Australia.
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Vanda & Young
Inside Australia's hit factory
By John Tait
University of New South Wales Press LtdCopyright © 2010 John Tait
All rights reserved.
THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
I stood, stripped to the waist, in the centre of a football ground wishing I was someplace else. My native Holland would have been about the right distance away. As long as it was anywhere but on that piece of ground in Sydney. I looked at the fellow standing opposite me. He didn't seem worried. His fists were bunched and he was already measuring me up like a homicidal tailor. Then it was on. The stoush, I mean. The two of us fought for God knows how long, urged on by two rival groups on the sidelines. We fought until both of us were too bloody and battered to continue. Someone announced it was a draw. I couldn't disagree more. In a fight both sides are the losers. And why, you may ask, was Harry Vanda brawling in the centre of a football ground in Sydney?
Harry Vanda was soon to be the lead guitarist in Australia's biggest band of the 1960s. But at this moment, he was just a Dutch immigrant trying to survive at the Villawood Migrant Hostel. It was a sport in those days for groups of local louts to harass the hostel residents verbally and physically. When they had nothing else to do, which seemed to be often, they would come in a gang wielding bicycle chains, brass-studded leather belts, even knives, to beat up a few 'reffos'. Harry managed to keep out of trouble until one day he received a message: 'So-and-so is out to get you.' He later found out that because of his size (6 feet 1 inch [186 cm] – a Goliath for his generation!) he was chosen to represent Villawood Migrant Hostel in a bare-knuckle fight.
Populate or perish
After World War II, the Australian government felt an urgent need to quickly increase the nation's population. The alarmist catch-cry of the time was 'populate or perish'. Europeans were the target, given that Australia would be a very attractive proposition for the working class of war-torn Europe – if only the journey could be made affordable. The lure was sunshine and opportunity.
For the grand amount of £10 for adults and £5 for each child aged 14–18 (and nothing for younger children), a British family and all their belongings would be transported half-way around the world. The only condition was that they had to stay for a period of at least two years. Those who took advantage of this offer were colloquially known as 'ten-pound Pommies' or 'ten- pound tourists'. Most came by ship, although towards the end of the program some came by plane. Those who were unsponsored were temporarily housed in government-run hostels until they were able to get on their feet.
The Australian music industry indirectly benefited from this policy. The list of 'ten-pound Poms' who went on to become music stars is long and includes: Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (Bee Gees); Glenn Shorrock, Terry Britten and Paddy McCartney (Twilights); Jim Keays (Masters Apprentices); Billy Thorpe and Tony Barber (Aztecs); Mike Brady and Pete Watson (MPD Ltd); Jimmy Barnes and Steve Prestwich (Cold Chisel); and Dave Evans, Bon Scott, Malcolm and Angus Young (AC/DC); as well as solo artists like Ted Mulry, Lynne Randell, John Farnham, and John Paul Young.
Young British immigrants had a few advantages over local budding musicians: they were up to date with the latest trends in pop culture; they had the right accents for rock'n'roll; and singing was an integral part of their background. Popular music was one way these young immigrants could express themselves and find a place in what was a strange and sometimes hostile culture.
Assisted passage schemes were made with other European countries, including the Netherlands. During the 1950s and 60s, Dutch immigration to Australia was very strong – the fourth highest behind Britain, Italy and Greece. Passage to Australia was 100 guilders, which was the Dutch equivalent of £10.
These assisted passage schemes gave us the best band of the 1960s – the Easybeats: Stevie Wright and Snowy Fleet from England, Dick Diamonde and Harry Vanda from Holland, and George Young from Scotland.
The first of the Easybeats to arrive in Australia was Dick Diamonde. He was born in December 1948 as Dingeman van der Sluys in Hilversum, Holland. His father, Harry, was a chef who felt his opportunities were limited in Holland and brought his family to Australia when Dick was only four years old. Dick once said, 'I don't know anything about my native town. As a matter of fact, I was much too young. I spent more time in the cradle and playpen than in the streets.' After a short stay at Villawood, the family settled in a house in Virgil Avenue, Chester Hill, a neighbouring suburb. They maintained links with the hostel, though, as Harry van der Sluys landed a job there as a cook. He and his family were strict Jehovah's Witnesses.
Dingeman grew to be a quiet young man whose mother was always plying him with vitamins. At the age of fifteen he left school and joined the railways: 'I worked as a clerk at the Flemington carriage sheds and sidings, then moved to Enfield locomotive sheds to work as an apprentice driver working on the footplates of some of the largest steam engines 60-class in the southern hemisphere, and the then new Diesel electric engines. I fired and drove steam engines – fulfilling a boyhood dream. Then there was a terrible accident and that put me off.'
After a couple of months of saving he bought a guitar and formed a group with friends who had begun running a dance night at a scout hall at Panania, Sydney. The dance moved to a larger hall in Bankstown until some gatecrashers ended that venture. Dick wrote about this in Everybody's magazine:
I surveyed the wreckage. Amplifiers worth hundreds of dollars were smashed, glasses lay broken on the floor, chairs and tables were upset and scattered. And from half a dozen fellows came moans as they felt their cuts and bruises. I was 15 and was watching the end of my first promotion ... A gang of about 40 burst through the door and the trouble started. They waded in with fists and belts and knives. Girls ran screaming into the street, the amplifiers were slashed by knives, and someone tossed a Molotov cocktail on to the footpath by the hall. When the place was cleared and only the wreckage remained the police arrived. They told us we could never open again.
Ten-year-old Stephen Carlton Wright arrived in Australia from Leeds in 1958 with his parents, George and Dorothy, younger brother Ralph and baby sister Susan. The Wrights travelled to Australia on the Fairsea, which first docked at Fremantle, Western Australia. Stevie had a brush with his destiny on his first day in Australia. While looking around the town he purchased a Boomerang Songster, a tiny booklet containing popular song lyrics published by J. Albert & Son.
The family finally disembarked in Melbourne and moved in with a relative in North Melbourne, not far from the famous Arden Street football ground – the home of the North Melbourne Kangaroos Australian Rules football team. Stevie even befriended a neighbour, Cliffy Dwyer, the younger brother of Kangaroos legend Laurie Dwyer, and sold ice creams on match days. After two years in Melbourne, George Wright, who was now in the army, was transferred to Sydney where the family moved into an army house opposite Villawood Migrant Hostel.
Stevie was commonly described as a 'cheeky little bugger'. He was short, good looking and oozed confidence. All the girls loved him and most of the boys wanted to beat him up. He left school at fourteen and found a job as a messenger and part-time salesman at a men's clothing store in the city. Due to his outgoing personality and 'gift of the gab', he quickly became a fulltime salesman – with an appropriate pay rise.
He entered a talent contest at a local hotel, sang Bobby Darin's 'Dream Lover' and won. The prize was a spot singing with the hotel's house band, the Midnighters. He was not a gifted singer but his natural showmanship enabled him to cover it. Other bands started asking Stevie to guest with them. He was approached by a man called Alan Kissick who offered to be his manager.
Stevie dyed his hair blond, changed his name to Chris Langdon and with some of his Villawood friends, including Johnny Dell and John Gamage, formed a vocal group called the Langdells (a contraction of Langdon and Dell). While performing with this group, he often crossed paths with another vocal group, the Bee Gees, who were playing in similar venues. Stevie struck up a friendship with Robin Gibb: 'I guess I would still be Chris Langdon had I not met the Bee Gees one night. They took me to their home and played the first Beatles record I'd ever heard, "She Loves You". They also showed me a picture of four long-haired young men. As soon as I got home that night I blackened my hair and decided it would never be cut again.'
The Young clan
When the Young family stepped off the plane at Sydney airport in 1964, it was a significant day for Australian rock'n'roll. The family had left Cranhill, a rough housing estate on the outskirts of Glasgow, for a better life in Australia. Their youngest, Angus, had been hit by a car back on the streets of Glasgow, which may also have influenced the family's decision to leave. It cost William and Margaret Young £20 to come to Australia with their youngest children George, Malcolm and Angus. Also on the plane were Margaret Jnr, her husband Sam Horsburgh and son Sammy; William Jnr with his wife Jessie; and Stephen Young, his wife Janet and two children, Fraser and Stephen. John Young also emigrated, but at a different time. By all accounts, eight-year-old Angus announced his arrival by vomiting in the airport terminal.
William and Margaret Young had eight children in all: Steven (1933), Margaret (1936), John (1938), Alex (1939), William (1941), George (1948), Malcolm (1953) and Angus (1955). All the boys took up musical instruments. First-born Stevie played accordion while middle child Alex played saxophone and clarinet. Malcolm Young explains how this happened:
All the males in our family played. Stevie, the oldest, played accordion, Alex and John were the first couple to play guitar, and being older it was sort of passed down to George, then myself, then Angus – like when you're kids and you get all your brothers' and sisters' hand-me-downs.
Even though she did not play an instrument like her brothers, Margaret Young played a key role in their musical development. While the older brothers played a mixture of jazz and blues, it was Margaret who developed a passion for the music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino. Most importantly, she turned the younger three brothers onto rock'n'roll.
Alex Young did not immigrate to Australia with the rest of the family. He was twenty-four years old and caused a family schism when he announced that he intended to make it as a musician in England. Telling the family that they were 'mugs' for going to Australia probably did not help. Alex was playing saxophone with a band called the Bobby Patrick Big Six. The group was originally formed in 1960 in Glasgow, comprising Bobby Patrick (vocals/trumpet), Alex Young (sax), Freddy Smith (drums), Pete McCrory (guitar), John A. Wiggins (keyboards) and Archie Leggatt (bass). In 1962 they went to Hamburg and played in the Star Club, where they built a following among the US servicemen who were stationed there. They also backed singers like Tony Sheridan, Brenda Lee, Emile Ford, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. They befriended another young band also playing in Hamburg who came to be known as the Beatles. At some point, for reasons that no-one can remember, Alex started using the stage name George Alexander.
The Young family's initiation to their new country was stressful. Accommodation at Villawood Migrant Hostel was spartan. The snake-infested army barracks in the western suburbs of Sydney made it feel like the suburbs had ended and the outback begun. According to Malcolm Young, 'It was like a prison camp, all these old tin shacks.' To make matters worse, it poured with rain for the first month. So much for the sun-drenched country that had been promoted back home. They only lasted at the hostel for a few weeks before pooling resources and finding a big rental house in Burwood for the entire clan.
Johannes Hendricus Jacob van der Berg grew up as an only child in The Hague. His father, Hans, was an engineer for the Holland America line and was often at sea for long periods. His Swedish cousin Agnetha Fältskog was also destined for stardom (with ABBA).
When Harry was six years old, his parents bought him a Spanish guitar. At eight he started lessons with a music teacher who would come around to their flat, but it didn't last long because his teacher complained: 'I'm not going to continue, I'm shocked. The little know-it-all is trying to teach me.' For a few years Harry redirected his energies into soccer and other sports until at thirteen he rediscovered the guitar. From then on he would spend all his spare time practising in the unheated, sound-proof basement of their tenement block.
As a teenager, Harry joined a local band called the Starfighters as lead guitarist. The highlight of their career was supporting Cliff Richard and the Shadows when they came to town, even though a large proportion of the Starfighters' play-list was Shadows covers. Jos van Vliet, singer and manager of the band, told Teenbeat magazine:
Harry van der Berg was a great guy, very musical and he basically carried the group. We would play many gigs at school parties and social gatherings. Actually, we had our own society in Rijswijk, the Starfighters Teenager Club, where we would perform once in a fortnight ... I remember that all of us were still at school, and when I was not singing I would sit backstage and do my homework and Harry would do the same during the breaks. We were always welcome at the van der Berg family and they had a really great rehearsal room. One day Harry came to tell us that his parents had decided to emigrate. He felt terrible and naturally so did we. Once gone, we tried to find a good replacement for him, but without success. Then we split up. Very regrettable.
Harry explains why his parents chose to move to Australia:
You don't question your parents' decisions. I wasn't happy about it because I had a band back there that I was torn away from but I didn't have much say in it. I really think my parents just wanted to live, and always being stuck in a rut of existence in a tenement block in Holland, I think they wanted to experience life a bit. In the back of their minds there was opportunity for me.
The van der Bergs – Hans, Elizabeth and 17–year-old Harry – travelled to Australia by ship in 1964. Harry brought his Höfner solid body electric guitar and home-made amplifier with him. He says:
When we first came here it never touched me, but it must have been hard for my parents to adjust. At the receiving centre at Bonagilla, in the middle of nowhere, it looked like a prison camp, old huts like you see in Stalag 19 – prisoner of war huts. Bloody cold, as well. You stick around there for two or three weeks while they try to find you a job. I took it in my stride. For my parents it was traumatic and I could see the guilt on my mother's face: 'What have I done to this boy!' Well this boy couldn't give a shit! The old man got two job offers, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney. My mother said, 'I'm not going to Melbourne, it's as cold as Holland.' So they went to Sydney and they found they could not handle the heat! My mother used to stick her head in the fridge to try to cool down. For the old man, the sense of adventure faded away.
The van der Bergs lived at Villawood Migrant Hostel for two years. They were accommodated in an old Nissen army hut that looked like half a barrel. Their unit consisted of two bedrooms and a kitchen/dining room all painted cream. The bathroom and lavatories were a fair way from the house. On a wet night you had to be fairly fast on your feet or you got drenched. The things that stand out in Harry's memory were the mud in the winter and the dust and flies in the summer. For this privilege and watery food from a community kitchen they paid £15 a week. Residents of the camp were a mixture of Dutch, English, Polish, German, Russian and Hungarian. And that's how most of the trouble started. The Dutch did not like the Germans and the Hungarians could not stand the sight of the Russians.
Excerpted from Vanda & Young by John Tait. Copyright © 2010 John Tait. Excerpted by permission of University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction: The sultans of rock,
1 The land of opportunity,
2 The rise of the Easybeats,
5 The London crusade,
6 Tall poppies,
7 Following 'Friday',
8 Everything that could go wrong,
9 The end of the Easys,
10 The four-year binge,
11 Rebirth of the 'Hit Factory',
12 John Paul Young,
13 Aussie Pub Rock,
14 Flash and the Pan,
15 Reunion, relocation and retirement,
Epilogue: Somewhere between heaven and Essendon,
Australian singles charts,
The eight most-covered Vanda/ Young and Easybeats songs,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book certainly gives lots of anecdotal information about the careers of vanda and young. Well over 100 pages spent on the Easybeats period. It is an interesting read if you are looking for a linear histiporical narrative, it also has some biographical material on the pair and other key players in that band and various other bands that they participated in in one way or another. It is definitely not an insiders view or Prespective on their long term role as hit makers and/ or shapers of Australian popular music or culture. Sure, it says they did it, but really only in a linear narrative form, like they produced this band and that band and this solo singer and so on. Anyone, with the slightest interest in Australian contemporary music will know most of this stuff, sure there are some interesting snippets of new information. But this is not an siders view and certainly gives no information on the hit factory, no internal perspective at all and barely a glimpse of any tools used. Hey the power of the rythm guitar, that is earth shattering news. The full listing of there material is of some interest, as is who has covered what, but hey it's not worth producing a book to give us that, it could have all been put on a website, if it's not already. And do we really need to know all the rich and famous musicians who think vanda and young are wonderful? Really! This book is a sham, as it misrepresents itself. It should be called the history of vanda and young. Have rattled my sword, I will admit, it was a nice light read. But it is not what it presents to be.