“ALLO MUM, I’M ON TELLY!”
JON: “Jesus, where’s Graham? It’s one minute to air! Are you guys in the ‘Beatle Haircut Competition’?” “No, we’re the famous Rajahs.” “Oh, really? Well, get out here, you’re on second!” “Who’s on first?” asked Nosmo innocently. “Christ, that’s all I need!” wailed the floor manager, as floor managers are wont to do. “Oh, thank you Lord, here he is. Graham, you’ve got ten seconds!” “Oooh, I’m early tonight.”
Such was the normal, smooth running, well-oiled machine called the “live” variety show. The only difference was this one was run by the master! No, not the master of the Shallimanikee but the master of the “Tonight Show” in Australia. The one and only Graham Kennedy – “The King.”
We were on IMT – In Melbourne Tonight on Monday, March 23, 1964. “What the hell are we doing here?” I thought to myself as we were hustled to our rostrums in our best Beatle outfits and winkle-picker shoes. It felt oh so good to be back in those hallowed halls of our alma mater, the TV station. They’re all the same, even in Victoria. The familiar clamour and bustle as people go about the business of entertaining the masses. “The gods of rock’n’roll must be smiling on us” I thought, “We’re back again!”
I was jolted out of my thoughts by the Channel 9 Orchestra playing the intro of It’s Imagination, “How true!” I said but the other guys couldn’t hear me. All of a sudden things started happening. We were standing on our rostrums, singing I Want To Hold Your Hand. I‘ve no idea how we got there. “Check the cameras… the one with the red light on, dummy! Have a squizz at the monitors every now and then to make sure you don’t look too stupid,” said the familiar ‘on-TV’ voice in my head.
The resident orchestra presumed that we were all crazy, with our head shaking and our bobbing up and down - Very undignified for a musician. Graham only spoke to us once during the whole show but then again, tonight show comperes are notorious for not speaking directly to musicians and entertainers as such, without the benefit of an interpreter of some sort, usually a floor manager, or maybe even a director. One girl, who sang back-up vocals on a TV show for 18 months, wasn’t spoken to for the whole time! Lovely fellow, Graham! Personal friend of mine!
Next followed one of Graham’s famous skits. This one was called Irma’s Boyfriend. The beauty of Graham’s skits was the way he stuffed them up; Lord knows it wasn’t the script writing! He would have the rest of the cast cracking up the moment he walked on the set. He followed the skit with one of his sarcastic and hilarious commercials, where the more he ridiculed someone’s product, the more people would buy it.
Then came the highlight of the show, at least for us. The Channel 9 Ballet. Yes folks, the dancing tits and bums! We all fell in love but you can’t win ‘em all! Johnny Marco followed, singing Mount Every Climber in E flat! One more skit and then the yet-to-be-famous Seekers sang Just A Closer Walk With Thee. Hallelujah, save mah soul, boss! At the time they were more of a poor man’s Peter, Paul and Mary. This was probably their last show in Australia before they left to seek fame and success in England.
After some more caustic commercials, we were treated to the wonderful Robyn Alvarez, the older sister of Lyn Alvarez, whom you will remember from the aforementioned Brumbies episode. For me, the girls in the ballet were forgotten the moment I saw Robyn Alvarez, a definite ‘nine’. A gentleman by the name of Cy Grant then treated us to a rendition of Calypso Carnival, which defied description.
The “closer” of the show, the big deal, top billing: THE RAJAHS singing She Loves You. In the final bars of the song, we sang, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, (arms outstretched – G 6th chord) Yeah…!” On the last “’yeah!” Nosmo fell over backwards with a crash. A perfect prat-fall! Graham came over and he spoke to us! He uttered the immortal words “Is he all right?” The switchboards lit up with loyal Victorian fans, demanding to know whether Nosmo King had bought a ticket to rock’n’roll heaven. It was good to be back on TV!
Home from Melbourne the next day, we had a little celebration lunch at Cahill’s restaurant and then it was across George Street to J.Stanley Johnstons. I badly needed a new guitar to go with my new “star” status. The poor old Gretsch ‘Country Gentleman’ was falling to bits. I fell in love with a white Fender Jaguar. Mistake! Jaguars were not one of Fender’s better efforts. Still, it looked nice for the new image.
On March 29 we did a surf show with the Delltones at Taylor Park, the Entrance. Also on the bill were Col Joye & the Joy Boys, Little Pattie, The De Kroo Brothers and Johnny Rebb, who was badly in need of “the personal treatment”. He had forsaken the Rebels and taken up with a new band called the Atlantics, who’d had a huge 1963 instrumental hit with Bombora. The audience consisted of about three people and a dog. The Duck was right. Surf music had “had the dick!”
Later that week we put down some backing tracks for Lyn Alvarez at EMI Studios. They were Little Bitty Texan (a parody on Long Tall Texan), It’s So Easy, Why Can’t You Love Me and Don’t Go There. Unfortunately for the beautiful Lyn, they were destined for obscurity.
The lack of live work wasn’t bothering us as we knew we were going back to the Can and besides, we had a few more TV appearances to keep us busy. The first one was Sing, Sing, Sing. As was the procedure at the time, we put down the songs at Festival and mimed for the cameras. We sang Kiss Me Now and Needles And Pins and backed JO’K with Good Golly Miss Molly (the Swingin’ Blue Jeans' version). Evidently O’Keefe had seen the error in the turbans and on this show he mercifully, exempted us from looking like refugees from the Khyber Pass.
The other artists who were on this particular Sing, Sing, Sing with us and the man who was fast becoming a real mate to us, JO’K, or Jok to his close friends, were Warren Williams, Rod Dunbar, Ken Sparkes, Trevor Gordon, Ricky & Tammy, the spunky Ponytails and my childhood fantasy, Noeleen Batley. The finals of the Sitmar Talent Quest were on the show that night.
“Who the hell am I going to make the winner?” asked a confused-looking JO’K, coming over to our set. “Give it to the blonde chick!” we all chorused. “You reckon?” said O’Keefe, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. We’ll give it to her.” The ‘blonde chick’ was Olivia Newton John! …And the prize was a Sitmar cruise to England.
LEON: At last we were back at our home base for another season at the Canopus Room in the Manly Pacific. Only this time, instead of the R’Jays with Sandy Davis, we were now the Rajahs with Nosmo King. Right opposite Manly Beach, The Can was the home of our most faithful friends and fans and we couldn’t wait to show them our new image, along with a whole new bag of songs, mostly British and Beatle-type songs. We started our first night on Tuesday, April 7, and we couldn’t believe it. There was hardly anyone there, except for Lonnie Lee and some of our closest friends. Could it be that they weren’t ready to accept us or had the place run down while we were away? The PA system had certainly run down, so we spent the next day fixing it. Nick Devery shouted us dinner and as we walked into the Can to start our second night, the whole place was buzzing. The crowd was starting to pour in.
“This is more like it,” I said to Jon as we donned our brand new Thai-silk coats. “I know,” said Jon. “Silly old Nick told everybody that we weren’t starting until tonight.” The band sounded great, very slick and well-rehearsed and our old crowd didn’t let us down. Our illustrious innkeeper, Nick Devery, stood in the corner with a satisfied smile on his face as the waiters struggled to serve everyone before the hotel closed at ten o’clock. Most hotels closed at ten o’clock unless they had a supper licence. The middies of Millers’ beer were stacked two-high on the waiter’s trays, surrounded by the occasional rum and coke for the trendies.
The next night was even better and by the time the weekend came around, the crowd was lined up for a block, waiting for the doors to re-open at 7 o’clock for the Saturday night show. They always kicked everyone out after the Saturday afternoon set to make ready for the nighttime crowd to burst through the doors.
Our first single Kiss Me Now was released that week and I had to do the rounds of the radio stations for interviews with 2UE (Ward Austin), 2CH (Max Rowley, 2UW (Tony McClaren) 2SM etc. The DJ who showed the most interest and was a help to a lot of bands at the time was Ward “Pally” Austin. “Thank you, Pally!” The 2GB “870 Club” asked us to star in a Stadium Show with the Delltones on the Saturday Afternoon and the show was another howling success for the week. Also featured were Warren Williams, The Courtmen, The Statesmen, Little Pattie, Digger Revell & the Denvermen, Jimmy Hannan and Johnny Devlin. We came on last and then we backed the Delltones who had just released their latest record with the Rajahs, the old Diamonds’ hit, Walkin’ Along. While we were doing the Stadium show in the afternoon, I arranged for a band called the Ricochets to fill in for us at the Can. They were managed by a conscientious guy called Mike Vaughan who had a slight stutter when he got excited. He also managed two other bands, the Charades and the Easybeats. At the time, he reckoned that the Ricochets were b-b-better than the Easy b-b-beats. B-b-boy was he in for a surprise!
The Can was raging by the end of the month and we were getting record crowds, so I talked old Nick into paying for the occasional guest artist. We weren’t about to go back into the old band floorshows because it was too much like competing with ourselves, so we decided to keep them for special occasions only. Two promoters from New Zealand came to see us at The Can one night and offered us a trip to the ‘Shaky Isles’. By the following week, a contract had arrived, “It’ll be alright Leon,” said JO’K when I told him about it, “I’ll get Patti to take care of the contract details.”
Patti Mostin was JO’K’s secretary at ATN7. We saw quite a bit of Patti with our comings and goings at Channel 7 and at this time we also became very close to JO’K, who would ring me up at all sorts of strange times and places. Jok told me that he was getting a bit bored with the pressure of the television show and he wanted to get out with the Rajahs and do a few live shows again. “Let’s do an album,” he said excitedly in a 3am phone call from Brisbane that frightened the daylights out of me.
After a charity show with Johnny O’Keefe & the Rajahs at St. Aloysius’ Church Hall, we invited Jok back to The Can where we assured him that he wouldn’t be ‘band vultured’. Well, Jok thought it was magic. A gleam came to his eyes. He was almost childlike as he asked if it would be all right for him to get up and sing with the band. “All right?” said Nosmo. “It would be fantastic just to see the look on Nick Devery’s face. He thinks you’re God.”
Jok thought it was a nice change not to have to BE Johnny O’Keefe and put on a show. “We can practise some of our songs,” he said enthusiastically. The kids all kept dancing as we ripped into a whole lot of JO’K standards while Nick stood proudly on the side of the stage. This was a perfect time to ask Nick if we could have a couple of weeks off to go to New Zealand. I told him it was Johnny O’Keefe’s idea.
“No trouble at all, Leon,” said the old walrus as we said good night. Nosmo and I jumped into Jok’s black Mark 10 Jaguar while Jon and Michael followed behind in Jon’s Chrysler Royal. Jok bought the British Jag so that the visiting Yanks would no longer feel sorry for him because he only had a lowly Ford Galaxy. We spent the rest of the night at Jok’s place at Castlecrag, listening to records, playing the piano and being careful not to wake up Marianne and the kids.
“What do you think of this song, Leon?” said Jok as he fonked away on the grand piano in E flat. Jok strained out the last note and looked up for approval. “I dunno John, it’s not much of a rock’n’roll song. You sound like Mario Lanza.” Jok sniggered and gave me his usual sly grin, the one that seemed to emphasize the slight turn in his eye. You were never quite sure whether he was sending you up or not. As it turned out JO’K’s version of She Wears My Ring, arranged by Milton Saunders, turned out to be one of his biggest selling records. So much for my obvious flair for picking hit songs!
Meanwhile, Jok had discovered another new drink that he wanted to try out on us. This one was called a Pink Elephant, a mixture of Galliano, white Curacao, grenadine, orange juice, vodka and cream, shake vigorously and top with nutmeg – Yum! Jok was very keen to get into the studio with the Rajahs and record some new tracks. As he merrily served up the Pink Elephants, he told us that he had already booked the studio at Festival for a session on Thursday, May 7. This time he was going to sing a couple of real rock’n’roll songs.
“Why do you want to record Shout again?” I inquired, sipping on another Pink Elephant. “Because the last time I did it, the bastards wouldn’t play it on the radio. They reckoned it was too wild.”
We had a chance to run our new version of Shout live three nights later when we played for the ATN Ball at the Chevron Hotel. It was the closing number for Jok’s spot and it brought the house down. Even the dinner suits and the evening gowns didn’t prevent the crowd of dignitaries from jumping up and going crazy at the end of the night. If we could just capture the same atmosphere in the recording studio at Festival Records, the song was bound to be a hit all over again.
Jon arrived at my place early on Thursday morning and we drove to Jok’s place for a final rehearsal before we hit Festival studio at midday. “Jon, you’re looking a bit green this morning,” said Jok as the kids helped us set up the gear in the lounge room.
“I had a heavy night and I feel a bit butcher’s,” replied Jon. “Don’t worry old mate, I’ve got just the thing to get you through the day.” Jok started mixing up a fresh batch of Pink Elephants as we started the rehearsal. “Oh no! Not another Pink Elephant, I’ll be sick. It’s only ten o’clock in the morning,” moaned Jon, who was starting to look greener. Jok ignored him and pulled out a bottle of purple hearts. “Trust me, one Pink Elephant and a couple of purple hearts and you’ll breeze through the day.” Jon took his Technicolor medicine and, instead of producing a Technicolor yawn, the colour seemed to be returning to his face.
We followed Jok in a convoy towards the Harbour Bridge but our cars couldn’t keep up with the black Jaguar. As we reached the tollgates, the toll keeper waved us through. This was one of Jok’s favourite tricks. He loved to pay the toll for the next few following cars, even if he didn’t know them. Half way across the bridge we were confronted by a parked black Jaguar with Jok sitting on the bonnet having a taste from the cocktail shaker while he waited for us to catch up. We pulled up behind him and a motorcycle cop drove up and said, very politely, “I’m sorry Mister O’Keefe but you’ll have to move along, you’re blocking traffic.” “I don’t believe it,” said Nosmo. “If that had’ve been me, I would have been thrown in jail.”
Robert Iredale welcomed us at Festival Studio with a disdainful roll of his eyes. “What are we doing first?” said Robert. “Come On And Take My Hand,” said Jok, as he poured everyone a Pink Elephant.
By the time we got to record Shout, everyone was having a whale of a time. Jon seemed to have recovered from his morning malady and was laughing along with everyone else. Robert, of course, maintained his usual unsmiling, studious face and Nosmo dropped the usual amount of well-timed farts. We completed the two tracks in no time at all, although Jok held up the vocals somewhat when he insisted on doing a 13-second “WE-E-E-E-LL” at the start of Shout-Part Two. After listening to the playback, we went across to the pub to celebrate a good day’s work done. While we were there, Jok took time out to audition the paperboy for Sing, Sing, Sing. “PA-A-A-PER!” the kid yelled out at the top of his voice for the tenth time. “That’s much better,” said Jok reassuringly, “You’ll sell a lot more papers now!” There’s that crazy look again!
Our toast for a job well done was slightly premature. The following week we were called back into the studio to redo the vocals. It seemed that upon further scrutiny of the playback, it was noticed that in the middle of Shout, where all the rhubarbs and “yeah, yeahs” were, there were a few audible farts and at one stage Jok was distinctly heard to say, “I feel a-all-right,” – BRAAF! “Oh Nosmo! Every time I think about you, you look so good to me, shit! I like your shirt Michael!” Meanwhile our tickets had arrived for New Zealand. This would be the first trip overseas for everyone. That’s if you don’t include Manly.