Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dreaming of Denise

Last night I dreamed I was in a band with Denise Drysdale. I was on drums, which I didn’t know how to play (and don’t in real life, either), and she was on guitar. Not only did Denise have some serious guitar chops, but she somehow managed to go-go dance while she played. Needless to say, I felt extremely inadequate in the dream, a feeling that was magnified when I couldn’t decide what to wear for a big gig we were playing, and got so caught up in my wardrobe dramas that I was late for the show. By the time I arrived, Denise had replaced me with one of my work colleagues.

How shallow is my subconscious? Wait: don’t answer that.

Anyway, Denise Drysdale is a Melbourne icon, and a more-than-worthy subject for this blog. Australia’s first and most famous go-go dancer, she’s had an illustrious career over the decades: releasing singles, entertaining the troops in Vietnam, appearing in theatrical productions and becoming one of the country’s most beloved, multi-Logie winning TV personalities. 

Moorabbin-born and Port Melbourne-raised, Denise started dancing very young. Her parents were publicans and, not wanting to expose her infant daughter to the no-holds-barred barbarity of the six o’clock swill, Mrs Drysdale sent her off to early evening dance classes. By the age of six, young Denise was winning competitions — and by 17, she was a go-go gal on ATV-0’s Kommotion.

Shaking it like a Polaroid picture
One thing led to another, and she was invited to tour with Ray Brown and the Whispers; after that she scored a recording contract (which included a winsome cover of Fontella Bass’s “Rescue Me”) and went on to perform on 26 episodes of the Bobbie and Laurie-hosted teen show, Dig We Must.

In between all this, Denise ran classes for aspiring go-go gals. The video below shows her in action:

You gotta love her instructions: 

Now relax your back and flop your head around. People aren’t going to look at anything else but your head. They don’t want to see your feet dancing, they want to see your head. And smile, whatever you do.
Yep, they're just looking at your face, Ding Dong!
It was Ernie Sigley who gave Denise her nickname ‘Ding Dong’, when she was his barrel girl on The Ernie Sigley Show during the 1970s. Their working relationship has endured til the current day, and they sometimes tour the club circuit together.

Other TV shows she appeared over the years on have included Hey, Hey It’s Saturday, The Norman Gunston Show, Young Talent Time, Division Four, Bellbird, Melbourne Today and, more recently, The Circle. She even had her own show, Denise, for awhile in the late 90s. Not too many TV personalities can claim a career spanning more than half a century — but then, very few TV personalities can come close to matching Ding Dong’s charm, humour, sense of fun and entertainment value. 

The original raven-haired beauty
And hell, if I’m going to have neurotic dreams about famous Melburnians, I could do a lot worse than Denise… 

Related post:
The Go!! Show: they don't make 'em like that anymore...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A pop cultural time capsule: Approximately Panther

“What was the Charleston if not a Victorian go-go?” (Douglas L. Panther)

Where is Douglas L. Panther now? In 1966, he was a writer (or self-proclaimed ‘drunken reporter’) for Go-Set magazine, starring in the fabulous teen documentary Approximately Panther and pontificating on the daily lives of Melbourne’s groovy youth.

But then, much like a one-hit wonder or a one-night stand, he dropped off the radar. At least, as far as I can tell. A fairly extensive Google search reveals a big fat nada in terms of his current whereabouts or activities, which seems odd, as the man was clearly not publicity shy. Maybe he’s changed his name? Gone into witness protection? Been abducted by aliens? To be honest, nothing would surprise me, considering his, well, unique presence in Approximately Panther.

The drunken reporter at work, baby.
“Maybe mini-skirts are simply wide belts?” (Douglas L. Panther)

This half-hour gem of a film, directed by Peter Lamb, takes us on a guided tour of Melbourne’s pop culture scene in 1966. From the discotheques and drag races, to the house parties and radio stations, it’s a fun-filled romp featuring interviews with the likes of a young, very earnest Lynne Randell, Bobby and Laurie, model Jenny Ham, band/venue manager David Flint, and a rather pompous fellow (a poet, apparently) called Adrian Rawlins spouting bollocks about “pop rejuvenation” and how he knows The Rolling Stones.

Lynne Randell chats to Panther about teenagers
Jenny Ham discusses fashion; Panther puffs on a dart
There’s amazing footage of the Running Jumping Standing Still performing for a moving, grooving crowd at legendary discotheque the Thumping Tum, as well as The Loved Ones doing “The Loved One” and Normie Rowe being mobbed at the airport. And then there is Douglas L. Panther.

“There is no such accessory as a hairy chest. More in demand is a combination of masculine beauty with gentlemanly chic-ness and attentiveness to feminine fancy considered effeminate a few years ago.” (Douglas L. Panther)

Nice fringe, Panther.
Usually with a ciggy in his hand and a knowing smirk on his face, young Douglas cuts an unforgettable figure. His longish, brushed-back hair looks like it’s going to spring out of control at any moment, while his half-hearted fringe seems to be wondering why it’s there. When he’s not banging away on his typewriter, he’s discussing “wenches’ expectations” and the erotic motivations behind fashion. He’s hilariously pretentious and strangely endearing at the same time.

But why take my word for it, when you can watch the doco in all its glory here?

Related post:
Melbourne song of the month: 'The Loved One'/The Loved Ones (May 1966)