Sunday, May 25, 2014

Then and now: When American jet-set and Beatlemania came to town

Can you believe that this blue-tiled beauty….
The Southern Cross Hotel in all its glory. Photo:
…was demolished to make way for this beacon of blandness?

Admittedly, by the time it was closed in 1995 (demolition came a few years later), the Southern Cross Hotel  was past its prime, its blue tiles having long since given way to a drab brown fa├žade, but surely its historical significance alone should have ensured its survival?

Designed by Welton Becket, the architect responsible for mid-century LA landmarks such as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Capitol Records Building, the Southern Cross Hotel boasted more than 430 rooms, eight restaurants, Melbourne’s first-ever ten-pin bowling alley (in the basement, no less), a massive ballroom and a shopping plaza. Its vividly coloured interior was masterminded by Neal Prince, director of interior decorating for the Intercontinental Hotel Corporation. 

Wilawa Cocktail Lounge. Photo:
Southern Cross Hotel plaza, as photographed by Wolfgang Sievers. Photo: NLA

Lifestyles of the rich, famous… and fab

Such was the excitement about this flashy American-style establishment located on Exhibition Street between Bourke and Little Collins, that its August 1962 opening was even broadcast on local TV! Ushering in a new era of world-class accommodation and customer service, the Southern Cross Hotel quickly became the place to stay for visiting dignitaries and celebrities, hosting the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Roger Moore, plus a cavalcade of prime ministers and presidents. Over the decades, it was the venue of choice for the Logies, the Brownlow Medal and various Liberal Party shindigs.

But the Southern Cross Hotel’s main claim to fame was for hosting The Beatles, who stayed there during the Melbourne leg of their 1964 Aussie tour (almost 50 years ago to the day).

John and Paul saying g'day to the heaving throng, June 1964
No less than 20,000 screaming fans crammed the surrounding streets trying to catch a glimpse of the Fab Four — a spectacle that was televised live for those who didn't make the scene. I can’t think of a single star who could pull that off today. But the appearance of John, George, Paul and Ringo on the Southern Cross’s balcony caused pandemonium, and sealed the hotel’s place in history.
Can you imagine this many teenyboppers turning out for One Direction?
After they left, enterprising staff tore up their bed sheets and sold the strips — marked with the name of the Beatle who’d slept on them — to raise money for charity. I wonder if any survive to this day?

Neville Waller, photographer for Everybody's magazine, captured The Beatles hanging out in their twelfth-floor digs.

Nice sandals, George

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Melbourne song of the month: 'Chicago'/The Purple Hearts (April 1967)

Here’s a challenge for you: whack this baby on your car stereo and try to stick within the speed limit. Released in April 1967, three months after they’d broken up, The Purple Hearts’ version of “Born in Chicago” (under the abbreviated title “Chicago”) is a rip-roaring, faith-restoring joyride that leaves The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s original pirouetting in the dust. Goddamn, I love it!

Unfortunately, I can’t find an online link to include in this post, so unless you’re lucky to own the original 7” (on Sunshine Records - anyone have a copy they want to sell me?), your best bet is the brilliant Half A Cow anthology, Benzedrine Beat.

Originally from Brisbane, The Purple Hearts relocated to swinging Melbourne in early 1966. Their second and third singles, “Early in the Morning” and “Of Hopes and Dreams and Tombstones” (killers in their own right) were recorded at the popular Armstrong’s Studio in South Melbourne, so I’m making an educated guess and assuming “Chicago” was too. 


The Purple Heart’s reputation as one of Melbourne’s most dynamic live bands comes across loud and clear in this recording. Frenetic but full of swaggering groove, totally unhinged but perfectly tight, its only fault is that it leaves you gagging for more after a measly 2:21 minutes. Sure, a short song is a good song, but this takes the whole ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’ ethos to another, altogether sadistic level!

Like so many Aussie bands of the 1960s, The Purple Hearts didn’t write their own material, opting instead to cover the r’n’b and blues classics they dug so much. But their creative take on these tracks ensured they ended up with a totally different beast at the end of the process. 

“Chicago” is way tougher-sounding than the original; faster and wilder. Swinging between a soulful falsetto and a deep throaty growl, Mick Hadley’s vocals are impassioned (to say the least) and his harmonica brutal; Lobby Loyde’s guitar, meanwhile, prowls around in the background like a tiger waiting to pounce – which it eventually does, in a lead break so freakin’ cool it hurts. Meanwhile, the turbo-charged rhythm section of Tony Cahill, Rob Dames and Fred Pickard doesn’t let up for a millisecond. If this isn’t a band at the peak of its powers, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the band playing it at a reunion gig in 2006 (I was there! Great gig, so much love in the room – I even managed to give Lobby a hug afterwards). It’s not quite the original line-up, but it’s still got that joyous energy….“Lobby, give it to me!”

RIP Lobby Loyde and Mick Hadley 

Related post:
Melbourne song of the month: 'The Real Thing'/Russell Morris