Thursday, November 30, 2017

Holy hiatus, Batman!

Long time no post, dear readers, and I'm afraid that's not changing any time soon. Life is always getting in the way, and until I can kick my chronic overcommitment tendencies, this blog is on indefinite hiatus. 

Having said that, if anyone wants to get in touch with an idea for a post or an interview, or simply wants to tell me how much they miss my posts (!!), I can be reached via the email in my profile.

Hopefully, I'll be back in Holy go-go boots land soon... Thanks for reading and stay groovy! 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Drinking in 1960s Melbourne: the six o’clock swill, swanky cocktail bars and booze-free gigs

"Like most workers we managed to get away from the office at 5.30 p.m. Imagine the scene: a large room, lavatory-like atmosphere, filled with pushing men, no seats, no tables, everything stripped for action. There is a large clock on the wall, invariably set fast, because the police come around at 6 p.m. 
"There is a big staff on for swill time: skilled barmen and barmaids, all equipped with the latest pluto taps on plastic hoses, designed for dispensing beer at frightening speed. Time moves past so quickly. It is twenty to six, now ten to six, the bar is 10-deep with crushing bodies, all thrusting handfuls of glasses towards the barmaids: 'Here', 'Here', 'For Chrissake here!' It is like penetrating the crowd behind the goals at a football match. Getting the precious cargo back to your possie is incredibly hazardous. Your mates help, of course, and you try to pass the glasses overhead. Beer rains."
Keith Dunstan, describing the ‘six o’clock swill’ at a Melbourne pub in the 1960s

When I first visited Melbourne on holiday in the 90s, I was gob-smacked to discover that there were one or two establishments where you could buy booze around the clock. As in 24 hours a day. For a Perthie like myself, at the height of her gleefully irresponsible drinking days, this seemed like some amazing sci-fi Utopia. Little did I know then that my home state had its own alcohol-related claim to fame: resisting the temperance movement’s push for heavily restricted pub opening hours early last century, even as most other states around the country fell into line with a supposedly more civilised six-o’clock closing time. 

Victoria was one of the first states to start closing its pubs early, in 1916—and one of the last to return to later opening hours. It wasn’t until February 1966 that Victoria reinstated the 10pm closing time, ending the notorious phenomenon known as the six o'clock swill more than 10 years after its perennial rival New South Wales (and almost 30 years after Tasmania!). 
Swill time at an unidentified Melbourne pub. Look at that smashed old codger to the right!! (Photo: Herald Sun.) 
These days, a night out at the pub with your mates is practically a sacred tradition in Melbourne, where there’s a pub to cater for every kind of punter—from hipsters to bar-flies, families to foodies, sports nuts to rock’n’roll fans—which makes it hard to process the fact that the city was once so far behind the curve when it came to licensing laws. And this in a decade when it led the country in so many other respects.
More Melbourne swilling. Who'd be a barmaid? (Photo: Herald Sun)
Meanwhile, pub-goers continued spewing out (spewing being the operative word) into the city’s early-evening streets until 1966, in what journalist Reg Leonard called a “daily demonstration of piggery”.

Not quite the Prohibition (but not pretty, either)

As the opening quote from local journalist Keith Dunstan* describes so vividly, the six o’clock swill occurred when men would rush straight to the pub after work to knock back as many beers as they could stomach in the hour or so before closing time. Not surprisingly, the consequences of all these pushing, shoving hordes sculling beer like it was about to go extinct were a little unsavoury!
 “At 6.15 p.m. we are all out on the footpath. Two characters over yonder are chundering into the gutter. Constitutions that have not known food for five hours need to be strong to handle five beers in 20 minutes.”
So much for temperance and moderation. The six o’clock swill was an excuse for high-speed, drunken debauchery.

Civilised sipping

Of course, people's tippling options weren’t completely cut off once the clock struck six. Folks could drink in restaurants, on the sly in some Italian-run cafes, and – if these gorgeous photos are anything to go by – in hotel cocktail bars. 
Drinks at the Bar, Savoy Plaza Hotel, Spencer Street, Melbourne, 1965. Photo: Wolfgang Sievers
Cocktail bar at Menzies Hotel, Melbourne, Australia, 1965. Photo: Wolfgang Sievers (copyright NLA)
Note the presence of women in these pics: being banned from drinking in pubs around Australia until the 1970s (except in specially designated ‘ladies’ lounges,’ and only then if they were accompanied by a man...unless they were willing to risk their reputation), they clearly found other ways to partake. 
So groovy! Cocktail bar of the Southern Cross Hotel (not sure who the photographer was)

Liquor-free live music

Although pubs are one of the main places to catch a band in Melbourne nowadays, this has only been a thing since the 1970s (the golden era of pub rock). Back in the 60s, gig-going was a teetotal experience, with bands performing in wholesome suburban town halls and unlicensed clubs. As inconceivable as this sounds now, I reckon it would've been fine.

I mean, who needs booze when you’re being treated to acts like The Spinning Wheels, The Pink Finks, Normie Rowe, The Mystrys, The Strangers et al? I suppose some punters might’ve smuggled hipflasks in, or done their drinking beforehand (or indulged in another kind of intoxicant), but hell, the music itself would’ve been like a contact high! 
The Spinning Wheels were busy! (ads taken from an old copy of The Livin' End)
More booze-free good times

Post script

No system is perfect, of course, and extended drinking hours at pubs and clubs have been linked to a spate of horrifying late-night coward-punch attacks in recent years. Fact is, Australia’s had a chequered relationship with liquor since the earliest days of European settlement, when rum was traded as currency. But with Aussies’ booze consumption currently on a downward trajectory, maybe the problem will solve itself? 

*(Incidentally, in 1968 Dunstan authored the tellingly-titled book, Wowsers: being an account of the prudery exhibited by certain outstanding men and women in such matters as drinking, smoking, prostitution, censorship and gambling)

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What a difference 50 years makes!

How's this for a cavalcade of talent? Fifty years ago to the day, the Go-Set National Top 40 was a whole lot more killer than filler. 

All the usual suspects are there: The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Beatles, The Animals, The Who, Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood... ahem, Engelbert Humperdinck and Harry Secombe...not to mention some fine local hit-makers such as Normie Rowe, The Cherokees (although I confess, 'Minnie the Moocher' leaves me colder than this frosty Melbourne winter's day), Lynne Randell and Ronnie Burns.

But only two bands have more than one song in the chart: The Mamas & the Papas and--of infinitely more interest to this blog--The Master's Apprentices! 

Since June marks the third anniversary of singer Jim Keays' death and a half-century since The Masters' classic self-titled debut album came out, it seems only fair that we consider the group's domination of the hit parade in late-June 1967 a little further...

First cab off the rank is their stormin', riff-tastic debut single 'Undecided', still going strong in 22nd spot after 13 weeks burning up the Top 40 (where it peaked at number 13). To think the band whipped it up in a mere 15 minutes to fill some recording space is a convincing argument that true art is the product of inspiration rather than perspiration. Rock'n'roll simply does not get better than this. Icing on the cake is, of course, the flipside, 'War or Hands of TIme', an anti-Vietnam protest number with a distinctly freakbeat-y sound.


Meanwhile, The Masters' snarlin' follow-up 'Buried and Dead' comes in at 33. Released in May 1967 ('Undecided' came out in October 1966), this gold-plated punker is significant not only for being a dance-floor favourite, but also for being accompanied by one of the country's first purpose-made music videos. As Jim Keays recalled in his memoir, His Master's Voice:
"We had tried a new approach with 'Buried and Dead' by making a film clip for the song. We'd seen a few of them made for overseas acts so we filmed one in a couple of hours at a park in St Kilda. As far as I can remember, it was never shown on TV but I'm pretty sure it was the first proper film clip made by an Australian artist."
Hmmm, I'm not so sure about that (what about The Loved Ones doing 'The Loved One' in Approximately Panther? Or The Black Diamonds' clip for 'I Want, Need, Love You', made for the ABC TV program Be Our Guest? Or even the long-lost 'Witch Girl' video by Holy Go-Go Boots Batman's favourite masked weirdos, The Mystrys?)...but it's certainly an early, and groovy, example of the artform, and here 'tis:

 (Incidentally, as a Southsider, I'm DYING to know which St Kilda park they filmed it in so I can go and soak up any residual genius vibes that might still be floating around. I don't recognise the location from this grainy footage.)

By the time of the Top 40 above, The Masters Apprentices had finally made the move from Adelaide and had been living in Melbourne for some months, gigging up a storm at legendary venues such as The Thumpin' Tum, Sebastians, The Biting Eye and Catcher. (If anyone out there was lucky enough to see them in action, please share your memories in the comments section! Meanwhile, our little 'pipe bending ears' will have to be content with the records...)

And the Australian Top 40 fifty years later? Don't get me started.

Suffice it to say, the lame-arse bunch of performers currently populating the charts (as evidenced HERE)--combined with the disturbing news that sales of electric guitars are plummeting--simply reinforces my belief that rock'n'roll's glory days are well and truly over...or am I just a grumpy Gen Xer? Wait! Don't answer that.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Confessions of a Gazzarri Dancer: an interview with De De Mollner

As readers of this blog would know, it focuses primarily on the music, culture, architecture and fashion of 1960s Melbourne (or Batmania, as it came so close to being called once upon a time). However, for this post, I’m making an exception – one I think you’ll understand once you start reading. After all, in many ways, it does fit the remit: the decade is right, and there are go-go boots galore! But this time, instead of Melbourne, the action takes place in Los Angeles…

That’s right, folks, today our time machine is taking us to La La Land, back when it was one of the most movin’, shakin’ places on the planet. Our guide is dancer, actress and all-round groovy chick De De Mollner—who was not only there when it was all going down, but was movin’ and shakin’ with the best of ‘em.
Shindig! 65: look out for it at your local newsagent
Best known for being one of the Gazzarri Dancers on iconic 60s teen music show Hollywood a Go Go, De De was friends with many of the era’s most influential musos (from Frank Zappa to Sonny Bono, The Byrds to Buffalo Springfield), as well as some of the hippest movie folks (Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Roman Polanski), artists and other countercultural types. I wrote an article about her for the latest edition of British music magazine Shindig! (issue 65, out now in the UK), but since my word count could only accommodate so much from our interview, I’m posting the overflow here. It’s simply too fascinating (and often funny) to remain unpublished! Put it this way: De De calls it how she sees it.

With the exception of some necessary background info, I won’t be duplicating anything from the article, though: so please be sure to grab a copy of the mag if you can track it down (not so easy here in Oz). Consider this a companion piece to the magazine article, rather than an alternative to it.
De De Mollner in action on the set of Hollywood a Go Go (photo: Time/Life)


Like the Shin-diggers on rival Los-Angeles-produced show Shindig! or the Hullabaloo Dancers on the NYC-based program of the same name, the Gazzarri Dancers were the resident dance troupe on Hollywood a Go Go. De De and her long-time best friend Mimi Machu were the first two girls recruited, after being spotted on the dancefloor at popular Sunset Strip nightclub Gazzarri’s -- by the club’s owner Bill Gazzarri himself. Gazzarri pointed them out to his friend Al Burton, HAGG’s producer, who invited them to dance on the show, which was in pre-production at that stage. Obviously recognising star potential when he saw it, Burton didn’t even make De De and Mimi audition.
Where it all started: Gazzarri's Supper Club
As it happened, the two friends were the only members of the troupe to last from the first episode (which went to air in Southern California on KHJ-TV in December 1964) to the very final show, which screened in February 1966. Other key Gazzarri Dancers included Jacqui Landrum (who also choreographed many of their routines), Dale Vann and June Fairchild: all of whom are well worth a Google search in their own right. Meanwhile, plenty of other girls appeared on the program for shorter stints of time. 

“We went through a lot of people,” De De reflects. “That’s how it is: there’s always one arsehole in every group. You can’t get six people together without one being a weirdo! There were always girls coming and going, who never clicked, so we just had a little clique of our own. Then I brought in Jacqui – she became a really good friend of mine; I lived with her for a while. I don’t think we had any problems after that.”

Hot dawg! This video showcases the Gazzarri Dancers as they get down to Thee Midniters on episode 34: De De is the first girl featured

As default leaders of the Gazzarri Dancers, De De and Mimi called the shots. If a girl pissed them off, she was out. Unlike the heavily stage-managed, commercially driven world of entertainment TV today, the dancers were left virtually to their own devices as far as choreography, outfits and internal dynamics were concerned.  

Explains De De: “It’s so interesting when I think of it now. We really did whatever we wanted. It was amazing … People ask me, ‘Didn’t you do a lot of photo shoots and stuff?’ No, we didn’t do anything! No-one was promoting us on that show at all. These days of course, we’d have our own line of clothing but then, we had nothing.”

She’s right. Watching Youtube videos of the Gazzarri Dancers in action, it’s impossible not to be struck by their marketability. For one thing, they’re total foxes – although not in a dollied-up, artificial way. These gals are wild, spontaneous and natural; even in men’s clothing (which they frequently wore) they’re still sexy as hell.  Not surprisingly, they got mountains of mail from admirers and had fan clubs around the world after the program was syndicated not only nationally but internationally. 

The clip below, one of Hollywood a Go Go's most viewed Youtube videos ever, goes some way to explaining the Gazzarri Dancers' global appeal. 

The most Hollywood a Go Go’s producers did to capitalise on the girls’ growing popularity was to give them higher billing in the opening credits. Very few promotional photos seem to have been taken, which is both mystifying (given their obvious photogenic qualities) and frustrating. Still, their ‘untamed’ vibe, and HAGG’s low-lit, nightclub atmosphere in general, ensured that the show got banned in some places!

“I think it came through the TV that we were crazy!” De De laughs. “We never thought of ourselves as wild. But we did think of ourselves as way beyond anything that was on TV, that’s for sure. Instead of trying to be some hotsy-totsy go-go girl in a miniskirt or something, we were just out there! No-one had ever seen this kind of thing before; some people couldn’t handle it.”

But far more folks dug it. “I’ve had people who watched the show and saw us dancing, they say ‘We just feel the energy’. And that to me is so great, because that’s all it was. It was so real; it was so unconscious. You’ll never see me do anything for the camera – you’ll never see any of us doing anything like that. It was simply us dancing our guts out. You look back on the videos now and they’re so cool, and you think, ‘Why were people so freaked out?’” 

To get an idea of just how different the Gazzarri Dancers were to the other shows’ go-go chicks, check out their head-flinging, hair-whipping wig-out to Sandy Nelson’s ‘Drums a Go Go’ below…how they didn’t break their necks or dislodge an eyeball or something is anyone’s guess.

A constellation of stars

Of course, the Gazzarri gals weren’t Hollywood a Go Go’s only drawcard: let’s not forget the artists themselves. De De and the gang got to dance alongside performers as diverse and talented as Ike & Tina, The Walker Brothers, Chuck Berry, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Jerry Lee Lewis, Freddie Cannon, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Dee Dee Sharp (whose “Mashed Potato” clip is extra-noteworthy for De De’s astoundingly cool mashed potato moves!), Fontella Bass, The Turtles and a long, illustrious etcetera. 

Anyone who’s watched footage from the program would have noticed that, more often than not, the Gazzarri Dancers look like they’re having their own party, almost oblivious to the artists they’re backing. One of the few exceptions is—unsurprisingly—Chuck Berry, who makes it his mission to flirt with some of the girls during his performance of ‘Maybelline’. 

So did that incorrigible lady-killer try it on with De De? “I can’t even remember Chuck Berry!” she says. “I remember dancing with him but I don’t remember hanging out with him or even talking to him. I guess I was just somewhere else – I don’t know what I was doing!” 

Fact is, De De was into a different scene. “My boyfriend was Michael Clarke from The Byrds, and I was more into that. The Byrds, The Buffalo Springfield … these were all people I knew in Hollywood... I was really into The Lovin’ Spoonful; people like that. Dylan was an idol to me. That’s where I was at the time, totally into that.”
De De (centre, rear) at a Byrds gig at The Trip, Sunset Strip, around 1965 (photo courtesy of De De Mollner)
One guest on the show who did make a lasting impression on her was the Duchess, guitarist with Bo Diddley’s band (not to mention all-round inspiration and style icon). “She was fantastic! I remember when they came on, I thought she was the greatest. She WAS the greatest! I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, this woman’s too cool for me!’ Totally ahead of her time. And there were very few people like that. A lot of them were just flash in the pan, but then there were people like Bo Diddley … rock solid, totally great.”

 'Let the Kids Dance', complete with big-talkin' intro from host Sam Riddle

In the Shindig! article, De De talks about becoming friends with Tina Turner after meeting on the show, as well as the time she hung out with The Rolling Stones backstage at the TAMI Show several months before they appeared on Hollywood a Go Go. Asked who her favourite Stone was, she replies: “Mick, of course.” Turns out the reason for that came a few years post-HAGG, when they crossed paths in London out celebrating Cat Steven's hit song ‘Wild World’. At one point, De De and Stevens’ girlfriend Patti D'Arbanville were sitting on the hood of his new black Citroen quaffing a bottle of champagne when they were approached by the cops, presumably to be reprimanded. “When they saw Mick, they said ‘have a nice day’ and we kept on going!” she recalls. 

Squares beware!

De De is on record as describing the host of Hollywood a Go Go, Radio KHJ DJ Sam Riddle, as “a big joke” and “so unhip it hurt”. (See what I mean about calling it like she sees it!). But when I ask why she thought he was so square, she reveals that her opinion of him has softened.  “I didn’t get along with Sam Riddle because I really thought he was a square – and he was, basically. But the more I talk to Randy, who was in The Challengers and has become a good friend of mine [The Challengers were one of the show’s most regular acts, along with house band The Sinners]… he’s told me a lot about Sam that has made me think differently about him.”

Unbeknownst to De De at the time, Riddle “was instrumental in getting a lot of the talent on the show. He did a lot of stuff that I didn’t know about which was really cool, so I think I was probably a little hard on Sam. He just wasn’t as hip as us!”

Well, come on: not too many people were as hip as the Gazzarri Dancers! De De laughingly agrees: “No-one was as hip as us – we started it all, babe – we were there and we knew what was going on!” The video below confirms it...

Always ahead of the curve, never afraid to push the envelope, De De’s high-spirited exploits back then read like a Russ Meyer movie script. OK, so she never killed anyone, but there’s a touch of Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill! in some of her stories, mixed with a dash of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. In the Shindig! article, she reminisces about:
  • almost causing a riot walking down the street in a Mary Quant mini-skirt
  • raising hell with Mimi in their pre-HAGG days: two gorgeous teenagers, accompanying older men to swanky restaurants, excusing themselves after dinner to go to the ladies…then doing a runner!
  • cruising Sunset Boulevard in her fastback Corvette on the hunt for cute boys to take home for the night (when she wasn’t doing that, she and Jacqui Landrum—who also had a Corvette—would race each other around the Hollywood Hills)
  • dancing on Hollywood a Go Go under the influence of LSD (still legal at that point).
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘You’re lucky you weren’t killed’, but I never had any trouble. I was very daring obviously: I was running all over the place and did everything. I was probably lucky that nothing bad ever happened,” she reflects.
Lock up your sons! De De circa 1968. (Photo: Henry Diltz)
Speaking of LSD, here’s a tantalising teaser: “I turned The Beatles onto acid for the first time.” W-T-A-F?!

De De was tripping at a party, and The Beatles were there. They noticed something was up, and asked her about it. “The next morning, I woke up and they asked, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ I told them I’d taken this stuff. And they were like, ‘Can you bring us some?’ Only John Lennon really wanted it. So I went back and gave it to him. I never talked to him again but I know he took it. Ringo became one of my neighbours later but he wasn’t even involved in this. That’s all I can tell you…” 

Make no mistake: young De De was at the heart of the rock’n’roll storm—and loving it. But did her parents have any idea what their feisty, fearless daughter was getting up to?

“None whatsoever. No idea,” she says. “I’d left home at 18, and I was going to college, then I moved to Hollywood to do the show … They had no clue. I didn’t really talk to my parents for 10 years because I was very political at that time, and they voted for Nixon and I couldn’t handle it. Later, we became very close again and I took them all over the world. My dad [Art Mollner] was a gold-medal winner in basketball in the Olympics in 1936—that was Berlin, that was Hitler—so I took him around the country to raise money for basketball. We played basketball all over.” All’s well that ends well, then. 

Life after Hollywood a Go Go

And speaking of endings, Hollywood a Go Go’s finale came without warning in February 1966. One Saturday morning like any other, the dancers turned up to tape an episode and were told it was to be their last. No reason or explanation was given. “We had no idea it was going to end at that time,” De De recalls. Fortunately, this final episode (number 58) is on Youtube in its entirety: one of only two full episodes to have come to light (the other is episode 6).

Following the show’s demise, the girls formed a dance troupe they named The Movement. My article goes into more detail about that: suffice it to say, this was no ordinary dance troupe. Instead, it was politically motivated and, sadly, too radical even for those radical times. Eventually, frustrated at not being taken seriously, girls decided to disband. De De then got into movies—a logical progression, really, since she was tight with Jack Nicholson (even living with him for a time), Harry Dean Stanton, Warren Beatty et al. In fact, before any of these now household names were famous, they’d been mad HAGG fans!
Go-going, go-going, gone...

Easy Rider and movie mayhem

Perhaps the most beguiling anecdote from De De’s cinematic adventures is how she was almost in legendary 1969 epic, Easy Rider

I was actually in Easy Rider but got cut out! I was cut out when they took the film away from Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, and put Jack in because there was no story. You know, it went on and on and nothing happened. The only thing they really had was the ending where they’re both killed, but they had no storyline…”
De De's easy-riding buddies, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda 
It’s well documented that the film blew out to four, even five hours, before being whittled down to the 95-minute version we’re all familiar with. So there must be loads of extra footage floating around out there, right? (To get an idea of what ended up on the cutting-room floor, check out the Wikipedia entry about Easy Rider, which even mentions De De’s scene in passing). 

“I did this scene where I was at a drive in with another guy, and I was making out with the guy, then Dennis and Peter drove up next to us. So I’m making out with the guy but I’m looking at Dennis…and all of a sudden, I say ‘Wait a minute’ and get out of the car I’m in, and into the car with the two of them. It was a great scene, believe me. And I saw it – I went in and saw the thing! But then they took the whole film away from Peter and it got cut out.” So close and yet so far! One can only hope it turns up one day, along with all the other lost scenes.

“I always wondered where that footage went,” she remarks. “Lots of times they’ve said they have extra footage from Easy Rider and I think ‘Where is that scene?’ I’ve never seen it again.”

De De has nothing but fond memories of Dennis Hopper. “I just adored Dennis—he was crazy, of course, but great. These were the people I grew up with, they were my friends… All of them were like 10 years older than me. Great times.”

Then there was Jack.

Jack Nicholson was one of the greatest people I’d ever met. He changed my life for sure. Definitely. He taught me everything I know about film. My nephew, who’s like my son, is a film-maker now. When he was little I took him to see all the films Jack had taken me to see….Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, Visconti’s Death in Venice. Or Roman Polanski (who’s a very good friend of mine): he made so many great movies, but Cul de Sac is by far my favourite film of all time. Jack turned me on to all these people.”
Roman Polanksi and Jack Nicholson larking around on the set of Chinatown
And how’s this for an explosive disclosure? “I have many stories about Jack and Roman, but I don’t think I’m going to be talking too much about them. I’m very upset that Roman can never come back to the United States. I know exactly what happened at Jack’s house, but it had nothing to do with Roman. It’s just unfortunate it all played out the way it did.” (Well! That’s certainly a different perspective on an infamous incident that’s been rehashed so many times it’s practically Hollywood mythology. I suppose I could’ve asked for more info, but somehow it didn’t feel right...)

Anyway, De De’s acting career continued in Europe, when she moved there for several years after Easy Rider. One of the biggest names she worked with was French Nouvelle Vague director Eric Rohmer, but once again, her moment in the spotlight was sabotaged.  “I was on the movie set for Claire’s Knee. My boyfriend at the time was a guy called Pierre Cottrell and he was the producer of the film… but I was taken out of that film too!” Another near miss! 
Ready, boots? De De circa 1968 (photo: Henry Diltz)

The dark side of a decade

As a decade that will forever be associated with some of history’s greatest music and art, not to mention its grooviest fashions and revolutionary social changes, the 1960s are extremely easy to romanticise (guilty as charged!). And certainly, De De recognises what a golden era it was. “But when you’re living it, you don’t know that. You think, ‘Oh yeah, this is what life is.’ But now, thinking how it all went down … oh my god, it was such a special time!”

But it wasn’t all peace, love and flowers. On 9 August 1969, disciples of Charles Manson slaughtered five people (including Roman Polanski’s actress wife, Sharon Tate) at 10050 Cielo Drive, quite near where De De was living with Mimi and Jack Nicholson. De De remembers being completely freaked out.
RIP: Sharon Tate at the house in Cielo Drive she shared with Roman Polanski
“Rudy Altobelli, whose house it all took place in, was one of our best friends, and I’d been over to his place many times,” she says. She’d even met Charles Manson when record producer Terry Melcher took him to a party there. “Rudy couldn’t stand Manson, and he kicked him out. So Manson just added that house to the list of people he wanted to get back at.”

Of course, by the time the four Family fuckheads turned up to wreak revenge, Polanski was renting the house from Altobelli … and the rest is history. After the murders, De De and Mimi went into their garden and screamed for half an hour, to see if anyone would hear them if something similar ever unfolded at their place. “No-one came. So Jack bought a gun. We were terrified because these were our friends that had been killed, and we had no idea who’d done it.”

Then, less than a week later, came Woodstock—another low point, in De De’s opinion (for different reasons, obviously). “By the time Woodstock hit, that was it,” she says. “Carloads of people were coming in, they had no idea what was really happening.” What had once been the counterculture was now well and truly mainstream, idealism had given way to imitation, and she was over it. 
Some of the Woodstock hordes
“It just became way too much. I went to Europe at that time, ‘cause I didn’t want to hang out here.” 

Her disillusionment was fuelled further by witnessing firsthand how growing fame was affecting her friends. 

"Bob Dylan was a friend of mine – he went insane because people were just looking at him like he had all the answers. All of a sudden people are coming to him and asking ‘What are we gonna do?’ and he’s like ‘Are you kidding?!’ He told them whatever they wanted to hear; he made up every fucking lie he could get his hands on!”

Jack Nicholson also copped it badly as his star rose:
“Jack was the most gregarious guy I’ve ever met; he’d talk to everyone. But the more famous he became…he’d just put those dark glasses on and that was it, he never talked to anybody. What can you do? All of a sudden you can’t go outside without thousands of people screaming at you. And the more people that know you, the worse off you are. There’s always someone who’s gonna have some weird fixation about you, it’s really scary.” 

What a difference half a century makes

One of the remarkable things about the Hollywood a Go Go videos available on Youtube is how fresh and timeless they still feel. Yet at the same time, they’re a vivid reminder of how much has changed in the 50 years since the show folded: musically, culturally, politically. 

So what does De De think of the current music scene compared with that of her youth? Is there anyone around today that she enjoys listening to? Brace yourselves, readers…

“I must say I’m not crazy about the music of today,” she observes. “I really loved Amy Winehouse but she’s dead. So I don’t know who I like; I can’t think of anyone who turns me on. That’s why I’ve gotta listen to the old music. It’s sad, ‘cause I’m waiting for somebody who might be great. But these people are so…creepy. I can’t get behind them…Justin Bieber…they just make me sick. I thought I might like Coldplay but they’re way too boring!” Couldn't have put it better myself...
No caption needed
Fact is, you can take a girl out of the 60s, but you can’t necessarily take the 60s out of the girl. Even today, De De wears her radical heart on her sleeve; not surprisingly, she loathes US President Trump, and is stumped as to how such a world-class “idiot” came to power. 
“I don’t know how it happened!” she exclaims. “That’s one of the big mysteries I talk to all my friends about. We have theories … but I really have no clue. I feel so bad.”

Similarly, the relentless pursuit of money so prevalent in Western society today dismays her. “I grew up with such a free, wonderful experience, and now it’s just all kind of muffled—it’s all about money. It was not about money then: nobody even knew what selling out meant. Jack would never do a commercial – he’s never done one in his life. It’s integrity. I mean, you have your art, why do you have to sell out? Money isn’t everything, believe me.” 
De De these days: on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where she now lives


So there you have it: De De Mollner uncut! But this (admittedly lengthy) blog post is just the tip of the iceberg. Can’t you just imagine what a wild ride her memoirs would be? Sadly, De De is reluctant to put pen to paper.

“I wrote a synopsis once, of a book I wanted to write with all these vignettes. I’ve had some crazy stuff happen, and have a lot of funny stories about people who are famous. But after I reread it... I don’t know …I’m talking about Warren Beatty, we used to play tricks on him … at the time, I thought it’d be fun to write, and I showed it to people and they said I should write it, but…” She trails off.

She does let slip, however, that she might be persuaded to change her mind if she were to co-write a book with her old heart-breaking, go-go dancing partner in crime, Mimi Machu. “I’d love for Mimi and I to write a book,” she says, “but we don’t talk at all anymore. Our friendship just didn’t work out.” 

I haven’t gone into much detail about De De’s friendship with Mimi here, as it’s covered quite extensively in the Shindig! article. In a nutshell, the two girls shared an incredible bond from the age of 11, and were pretty much inseparable until it all imploded. Understandably, De De still grieves the loss of such an important, formative friendship.  

“It was devastating. I feel really bad about it but there’s nothing I can do. I’ve given up on ever getting back what we shared,” she says sadly. “I spent at least 15 years of my life with Mimi every day, and it’s really hard not to be able to talk to her. There was a great friendship and then there was a total jealousy thing about Jack.”

De De explains that she tried to resurrect their friendship a few times, to no avail. She’s aware that Mimi lives in Hawaii these days and is doing fine, but doesn’t feel she can reach out again after her earlier attempts failed. “She knows where I am if she ever wants to get hold of me, and I’d probably deal with it again. Because there’s not much time left now.” 

Thanks a million to the wonderful De De Mollner for being so generous with her time and memories. Thanks also to my buddy Bags for suggesting that I interview De De and running the idea past her for me.

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Dreaming of Denise
Mystery girl: Jan Stewart

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A hot date with a Master's Apprentice (just in time for Valentine's Day)

If you are a girl, are you…
a) Tall, red-haired and sexy
b) Blonde, long-haired and modellish
c) A girl
d) Young, sweet and innocent
e) Slim, dark-haired and lots of fun?

Tough luck if you’re a boy – even a tall, red-haired and sexy one -- you wouldn’t have stood a chance to win a date with any of The Masters Apprentices!

From Go-Set, 3 April 1968
This hilarious quiz/competition appeared in the 3 April, 1968 edition of Australia’s favourite teen magazine Go-Set, hot on the heels of the Masters’ fourth single, ‘Elevator Driver’ (which, as readers of this blog would know, was retitled from a song called ‘Silver People’ given to them by The Groop’s Brian Cadd), and not long after they'd ruffled more than a few feathers with their shenanigans at The Who-Small Faces-Paul Jones Big Show at Festival Hall. 

For those of you whose eyesight ain't what it used to be, here are the questions in close-up. Don't be shy: take the quiz, and find out which member of the group would’ve been your perfect match! After all, it's one of those niggling questions we've all been plagued by at some point. 

So are you a Jim, Gavin, Colin, Peter or Doug kinda gal? Find out below, and do feel free to put the name of your star-crossed Master in the comments section of this post…
A, B, C, D or E?
But wait -- there's more!

After answering the multiple-choice questions, girls then had to give three reasons why they’d like to win a date with their preferred band member. Obviously, a simple, solitary “Cos he’s hot”, “He looks fab in women’s shoes” or “He gives Hendrix a run for his money” wasn’t sufficient...although a combination of the three might’ve done the trick. Mind you, I suspect the judges would’ve been looking for the unique kind of imagination that only an obsessed super-fan could dream up.
The boys around the time of the quiz. L-R: Jim, Peter, Gavin, Colin, Doug
Unfortunately, I don’t have any further information on the competition winner/s, what reasons they gave, which Master they went out with, or whether it was love at first sight. 
Helloooo, ladies! 
We're all about the big issues here at Holy Go-Go Boots, Batman...

(Feeling quizzical? Try the Holy Mop Tops, Batman! quiz, all about the Beatles' 1964 Oz tour.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Planet Records finale: PR stunts, Red Indian spirits...and Eartha Kitt

Hard to believe, but we’ve finally come to the end of my series on legendary Melbourne record label, Planet Records. The most recent instalment looked at the label’s impressive rock’n’roll legacy, but for this last hurrah, I’ll be picking up where I left off in the second episode, with some handy hints for aspiring record-label hot shots…and a cameo from Eartha Kitt .

Because even 55 years after the label folded, the Planet saga reads almost like a step-by-step guide on how to run an indie label, complete with a dramatic cautionary message thrown in. (And Eartha Kitt? Let’s just say any story is enhanced by her presence.)
Marcus Herman and Bob King Crawford at 'Vinyl from the Vault', a Melbourne Music Week session, recently, where Bob appeared as part of a discussion panel about the music industry

So you want to start a record label? More interPLANETary guidelines for success

Seize opportunities and weave PR magic 

Bob King Crawford’s flair for promotion has been mentioned before in this blog, specifically in relation to the off-the-wall PR stunts and sci-fi back-story he dreamed up for those masked marauders, The Mystrys. By then, he was already an old hand at it, having learnt to play the media like a violin during the Planet years.

“Bob was way ahead of his time for promotion,” his Planet partner Marcus Herman recalls. “He really had a lot of ideas, when most Australian promoters didn’t have a clue.”

With Planet Records, Bob’s promo talents knew no limits. The notorious Elvis Presley record sleeve was covered in the previous post, but that’s just one example of many. My personal fave is how Bob leveraged a news story about infamous ufologist George Adamski, whose books Flying Saucers Have Landed and Inside the Space Ships were best-sellers in the 1950s, into publicity for the label. Adamski claimed to have been abducted by aliens and taken to Venus, so Bob wrote to him (alerting the media, naturally) suggesting that next time the aliens took him, perhaps George could ask if they’d be interested in recording some Venusian folk songs for release on Planet! The local press lapped it up.
Artist Jim Nichols' impression of George Adamski meeting a Venusian
(can't you just imagine what the Planet artwork would've looked like?)
“That tied in with the name of the label, of course,” says Marcus. Indeed, the outer-space theme was evident everywhere from their slogan ‘If artists are out of this world, they’re on a Planet!’ to the label’s intergalactic presence at Melbourne’s annual Moomba Parade, where staff, friends and family would be roped in to masquerade as extraterrestrials!
The Planet team at Moomba . Note the cheeky sign: 'We admit that American artists are nearly as good'! 
Then there was the ‘Royal Baby Waltz’, composed by Bob, narrated by someone called Douglas Kelly, performed by Planet regular Barry O’Dowd and the Bruce George Ensemble, and released on the day Prince Andrew was born in 1960. Of course, nobody knew what sex the baby would be, so two versions of the song were prepared: one for a prince and one for a princess. Apparently the Royal family was most impressed, with the Governor-General sending a letter of congratulations to Planet on their behalf.

Not everybody shared the Royal family's positive reaction to Planet's stunts. As anyone remotely familiar with Melbourne history would know, demolition company Whelan the Wrecker gained notoriety in the 1950s and 60s for knocking down countless historic buildings around town in the name of, ahem, ‘progress’. This fact did not pass unnoticed at Planet HQ, and in early 1960, they released a single by a group called Whelan & the Wreckers (a name Bob bestowed upon them, naturally): ‘Hound Dog Man’ b/w ‘The Wreckers’. 

While the A-side is a fun, upbeat little rocker (and can be heard on Youtube here), it was the B-side that whipped up the controversy they were aiming for. Sadly, I can’t find any audio of ‘The Wreckers’ online but legend has it the lyrics go something like this: We’re gonna tear down the buildings/rip up the floor/break up the joint/yell more more more

Mission accomplished: the director of Whelan the Wreckers called up threatening to sue Planet, both for defamation and for appropriating their name for rock’n’roll purposes. But Bob somehow convinced him that it was all good publicity, and no legal action was taken.

When one door closes, open another one (or the Spike Milligan story)

By now readers of the Planet Records story would be aware that the label never let its relatively small size limit its king-sized ambitions. An important lesson for any indie label (or indeed, anyone with a dream): why place restrictions on yourself, when so many others out there will be only too happy to throw obstacles your way?

And so, knowing that Irish-English comedian Spike Milligan’s parents lived in Woy Woy, north of Sydney (having migrated to Australia in 1951), and that Spike visited fairly frequently, Bob and Marcus somehow wrangled a meeting with the Goon when he was Down Under in the late 50s. The plan was for Planet to release a Spike Milligan comedy album.
The house Spike Milligan's mum used to live in (photo: Google Earth)
“We went up there on a DC 3,” Marcus recounts (“a big deal for us!” Bob adds). “And we caught a taxi out to Woy Woy, to the house where he lived with his mum – it was a big expensive trip from Mascot. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking… Anyway, we’re there and we meet his delightful mum. It was sort of a narrow house with an upstairs, and she says, Spike will be down to see you soon; he’s looking forward to it.” 

Mrs Milligan served them a cuppa and they all waited for the comedian to come downstairs…and waited…and waited.
Spike Milligan as Batman, just because
Marcus continues: “So we’re looking at each other, and watching the time ticking by, and finally we ask Excuse me Mrs Milligan, but will he be down soon? And she says, I’ll just go and check. We can hear voices, but not what they’re saying. She comes back and says, He’ll be down soon. To cut a long story short, it went on and on like this. We had another cuppa –”

“We were starting to overflow by now!” exclaims Bob.

“-- then she goes upstairs again and comes back and says, I’ve got very bad news. Spike has changed his mind about the whole project. He did it all in that time we were there, the whole change of plan. So we took a taxi back again and went home.”

Neither Bob nor Marcus bore Milligan any grudges. “We never hated him for it,” Marcus reflects. “He was a terrific comedian: absolutely brilliant, very eccentric.” (As any Spike Milligan fan would know, the comedian battled bipolar disorder his whole life, possibly the reason behind his abrupt change of heart.) 

Disappointed but not deterred, Marcus and Bob were still eager to release a comedy record. And it just so happened that American comedian Dave Barry came to town soon after (on the bill of one of Lee Gordon’s famous Big Shows, no less) and Marcus attended one of his performances.

“I saw him at the Festival Hall [then called the Stadium] – and thought he was brilliant,” Marcus says. When he told Bob about the show, “Bob said, Right, let’s do an album with him.” So they approached Barry, who agreed on the condition that he approve the recording first.

The Dave Barry Laugh Show is a live recording made at the Stadium, released on Planet subsidiary Galaxy in 1959. And best of all? It was a huge seller. 

Be careful who you trust: the end of an era

For all Planet’s successes and innovations, its stable of stars and its prolific back catalogue, the label found itself in some financial difficulty by the late 50s after a couple of unfortunate business decisions. To add insult to injury, they learned that they’d soon have to find a new HQ, as the Eastern Market was slated for demolition to make way for the Southern Cross Hotel

While the exact timing of what happened next is lost in the mists of time even for those who were there, it seems Planet’s new accountant suggested a promising solution: that the label become a subsidiary of a recording company called Telefil, based at the rear of St Kilda RSL (now the site of live music venue, Memo Music Hall), and solve its financial woes that way.  After inspecting the premises and approving of the facilities, Planet relocated to their new home some time around April 1960.
Melbourne live music fans would know this venue well: Telefil was in the rear
Intriguingly, the listing for Memo on the Acland St Village website asserts that Bill Armstrong—best known as head honcho of the famed Armstrong Studios in South Melbourne—was Telefil’s sound engineer from 1961-1965. Although Bob and Marcus know him well from working in the same industry, neither have heard that before. Bob tells me that about 12 months after everything went down the tubes with Telefil, he returned to the premises to retrieve what Planet material was salvageable, and saw Armstrong there on that occasion, but didn’t get the impression it was a permanent arrangement.

On the contrary, Telefil sounds like some kind of dodgy brothers set-up, staffed by a hodge-podge
Bunney Brooke. I vaguely remember her from E-Street
of distinctly non-musical types. Among its employees were a Trinidad-born Olympic sprinter, Mike Agostini (who passed away just last year, and whose obituary mentions nothing of his stint with the company); an avid Bex-drinking secretary, Mrs Kinnon; actress Bunney Brooke (who went on to star in notorious 70s soap, Number 96); and even a former Miss Victoria, whose contribution seems to have been purely aesthetic. Oh, and let’s not forget the semi-trained teenage sound engineer and a bloke with a steel plate in his head who was particularly sensitive to the full moon!

Intriguingly, long before they realised that they’d handed themselves over on a silver platter to a bunch of crooks, Bob and Marcus received a hint that perhaps things weren’t as rosy as they thought. Some readers may remember Marcus’s past life theory from the first post in this series; well, as he remarks about the following anecdote: “This is going back to the yoo-hoo-hoos of metaphysics…”  

A message from beyond
When Planet was still riding the waves of success at its Eastern Market location, “we had two studios, and it was more than I could handle,” he says. To cope with this, they hired a fellow named Geoff Roberts to do custom jobs for people who came in off the street to record something for themselves—much like Elvis did at Memphis Recording Service before he was discovered. “We recorded lots of rock groups that weren’t released,” Marcus comments (To think who might have slipped under the radar…)
Bob with his towering pile of scrapbooks

It just so happened that Geoff’s mother was a medium, who hosted the occasional special evening get-together. Marcus recalls, “Geoff said to us, My mum is a psychic and she’s going to have one of her famous dinners – would you like to come? And Bob, would you like to bring your wife Heather? We thought that would be great—we didn’t know what to expect and so…”

Bob picks up the story: “We’re sitting in his mother’s anteroom and suddenly, there’s this noise. [He hums, a drawn-out low sound] We thought, What the hell’s that? And Geoff says, It’s the…”

Marcus: “…entity…” 

Bob: “…building up.” (Considering they’ve been friends practically since Adam was a boy, it’s no wonder Marcus and Bob have a tendency to complete each other’s sentences!)

Marcus continues. “The energy was building up. Next, Geoff’s mother starts clearing her throat [he makes a gross hacking noise to demonstrate]. We’ve all been placed in a circle: this is after we’d had something to eat and we were all sober as it wasn’t a boozy get-together. Anyway, his mother stands up and starts [makes hacking noise again]. Then this voice comes through—My friends!—it was like this deep amplified voice. A Red Indian speaking through his mother. So Geoff and his sister say, Hello Hookah; welcome, and Hookah said I have a message for everyone present. There were about 12 people including us.”

Apparently, Geoff’s mother’s spiritual abilities were well known in Melbourne. According to Marcus, “the Alfred Hospital did a check on her with her in a trance and said she was clinically dead”. Bob goes one better: “This woman was so good, the practitioners of the Alfred used to go to her to check out how to do operations!”

Who knows? The fact remains, she (or, rather, Hookah) knew Planet’s fate before Planet did. 

Marcus explains: “Then Hookah said, You and you – pointing to the two of us –think you’re in a business with wonderful people. You think they’re so trustworthy but right at this very moment they’re – I can’t think of the exact words he used, but to the effect that they were taking us down. But we didn’t believe it, because one of the people in the company was a QC!”

The QC in question was Telefil’s main investor, Philip Opas QC, a high-profile sportsman and barrister (who later defended the last man hanged in Australia, Ronald Ryan, at his murder trial). Although his involvement gave the company a veneer of respectability, Opas had very little to do with Telefil’s day-to-day activities, so chances are he was as blissfully ignorant of its shortcomings as Bob and Marcus. Hookah, on the other hand…

“I’d been looking for something to confirm for me that there was more to life than what we perceive around us,” Marcus sighs. 
Older and wiser...

Hookah was right: Planet’s brief time at Telefil was neither happy, nor productive. They released one LP while they were there (an album of football marches that Bob wrote in one night and recorded with the marching band the next day!), an EP and a couple of singles. Telefil showed no interest in promoting or distributing the records, or acting on ideas Bob and Marcus had for new releases. And one of the saddest things? The Bex-addled secretary, Mrs Kinnon, erased all Planet’s master tapes to resell as blank tape. 

“There’s a little bit of sticky tape joining a leader in between the tracks: that’s the silence that gets put in between items. I’d always be editing those in," says Marcus. "Anyway, she comes to us and says: I’ve had a wonderful day today. You know those tapes of yours? I got young Russell to take out all those gaps, rejoin them, bulk-erase the lot on the magnetic bulk-eraser, and we’ve sold them for so much each tape.”

“Six dollars,” Bob recalls with disbelief. 

Not surprisingly, Marcus resigned soon after. Bob stayed on for a few extra months: he now had a family to support, after his wife Heather gave birth to their son on Christmas Eve, 1960. (Something else Hookah the Indian spirit had predicted!)

When I remark that Mrs Kinnon single-handedly destroyed a piece of Australian history, Bob mentions that “When Telefil went under, I went down and collected what was there, put it all in the cab and took it home. So I’ve still got some.”

Turns out what he's got is second-best though. “He’s got stampers,” Marcus explains. “The stampers would be deteriorated for certain by now. By the same token, it’d be worth checking them out and giving them to one of the vinyl pressing places to see what they think. It’s still not the same as having the master tape.” 

Of course, you can’t keep a good studio mogul down, and both Bob and Marcus went on to further ventures. Marcus started Crest Records, on which he released some killer bands including The Blue Jays, The Frantics and The Leprechauns (the latter two later turning up on classic Kavern 7 comp, It’s a Kave-In). 

Meanwhile, Bob’s next move was his Talent City label, well known for its series of AFL 7” EPs—one for each team, complete with original, Crawford-composed, team-specific songs! And let’s not forget the ‘How to Speak Australian’ record by one ‘Bob K. Crawford: Head Lecturer on Physics, Philosophy, Football etc at the University Hotel’... 

Epilogue: the Eartha Kitt episode

OK, so this has nothing to do with Planet, but hell, it’s a cool little anecdote that’s too good not to share. Several years after Planet Records folded, and after his stint writing songs for The Mystrys, Bob King Crawford ended up doing PR for the Lido Theatre Restaurant, a glamorous (and saucy) ‘continental-style’ venue with showgirls and live musical performances, run by a fellow called David McIlwraith. 

How good are these Lido posters? (Taken from Bob's own website)
Bob’s illustrious track record of attracting attention must’ve preceded him. “At one stage, there were three people doing PR [for the Lido]; they all got fired and I was instated,” he recalls. A role promoting a venue famed for its razzle dazzle and leggy glamazons in various states of undress? Strangely enough, Bob accepted the job offer…

Anyway, in February 1969, the wondrous Eartha Kitt came to town, and was booked to perform at the Lido. “The first rehearsal she’s there, and her eyes smouldered,” Bob says. “They gave off a light like they were on fire, the most incredible eyes. She told the band off, told everyone off, got stuck in. Then she winked at me and said Always let everyone know who’s boss.”
Who's the boss, boys?
Towards the end of Eartha’s stint, “David McIlwraith said, Take Eartha down to the accountants, because she’s got to get a taxation form so she can leave the country. So we grab a cab and we go down to the accountant. She’s got an ermine coat on, $100,000 worth, and she looks magnificent! So we walk in and the man says, Sit down, I’ll only be a second. And we sit, while he goes through his papers. We sit there for a while. Then Eartha gets up, takes off her coat, puts it on a chair, and walks across to the desk. This bloke’s very, very English: his whole attitude, the way he’s dressed, everything, and she walks across and she stands on her head on his desk!”

Bob found out the next day that the accountant had called McIlwraith to report that, “I looked at Crawford, and Crawford acted like it was something normal.” All in a day’s work for the King, after all…
If she could do this, a headstand was nothin'.

That’s all, folks!
Of course, despite this being the fourth and final post in my series on Planet Records, I’ve barely scraped the surface. First step for anyone wishing to know more about this fascinating and multifaceted Melbourne label is to track down issues 130, 131 and 132 of Big Beat of the ‘50s magazine (published quarterly by the Australian Rock’n’Roll Appreciation Society), which cover Planet’s history in minute detail.

Bob King Crawford’s own website is also well worth a visit: prepare for sensory overload!

Huge thanks to Bob and Marcus for being so generous with their time and memories: it's been a blast, fellas!