Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Song of the month: "Claudette Jones"/Peter & the Silhouettes (December 1966)

Some of you might be familiar with The Louie Report, a blog dedicated to Richard Berry’s party classic “Louie, Louie” (it even profiles the version by Melbourne’s own Pink Finks, who featured in this blog very recently). Apparently more than 1000 artists have covered “Louie Louie” over the years – making it the second-most covered pop song ever (after “Yesterday” by the Beatles). Too bad poor old Richard Berry never got any royalties for it.

Kinda like
“Louie Louie,” Peter & the Silhouettes’ 1966 garage stomper “Claudette Jones" has inspired more than a few cover versions in its time. Unlike "Louie Louie", however, the original version of “Claudette Jones” is still the best*. Mind you, the covers aren’t so bad either (but more on those shortly).
Peter & the Silhouettes, 1966. L-R: Kieran Keogh, Manuel Pappos, Peter Rechter, Tony Truscott, Kevin Clancy
First things first: Peter & the Silhouettes hailed from Bendigo (where they were hugely popular) not Melbourne, but I think we can overlook a minor geographical detail like that. The fact is, “Claudette Jones” is such a fun, fuzzed-out slab of garage grooviness that where it comes from is immaterial.

This song ticks all the boxes for a bloody good time: thumping drums, dinky Farfisa organ, silly lyrics and an instantly catchy chorus, topped off with some sizzling fuzz guitar. Personally, I think music critic Richie Unterberger’s description of “Claudette Jones” as “pretty fair garage pop” misses the mark completely: it’s a bonafide ripper, and while it may not have set the charts on fire, that’s only because it never came out as a single. 

Recorded in Johnny Chester’s Melbourne studio at W&G in 1965, “Claudette Jones” was eventually released in 1966 as part of The Scene from Northern Victoria, a compilation showcasing the regional talent of the day (apparently the rest of the album was rather underwhelming). Since then, it’s appeared on Kavern 7’s cracking compendium of unsung 60s Aussie garage, It’s a Kave-In, which is where I first heard it, and possibly on other compilations too.

If you don't have it already, you need this album!
By 1967, Peter & the Silhouettes had morphed into The Tol-Puddle Martyrs. Under this name, they released a couple of singles and played regularly in Melbourne. They even came fourth in the 1968 national grand final of the Hoadley Battle of the Bands competition. But the big time eluded them, and finally the group fizzled out.

Vocalist/keyboard player Peter Rechter moved to Melbourne to study music, and ended up playing in a series of other bands. In about 2006, The Tol-Puddle Martyrs reformed, and I was lucky enough to see them play a short set at Bar Open. Forty years after its original release, “Claudette Jones” had lost none of its energy or garage goodness.

The Claudette Jones legacy

Anyway, for the music nerds among you, here are a few of the “Claudette Jones” covers I mentioned.

99th Floor (Italy, 1993):
Any band calling itself The 99th Floor is gonna get it right, and this version proves my theory correct! Super-faithful to the original, its charm factor is magnified by the singer’s Italian accent. Unfortunately, this Youtube upload cuts off before the end, but trust me – it’s worth a listen. 

Lords of Gravity (Melbourne, 2005):
This dearly-missed Melbourne band wowed local punters with their intense live shows and 60s sounds. Here they are doing “Claudette Jones,” only heavier, faster, wilder! Dig that waspy fuzz and Lord Evan’s blood-curdling scream.

Firebirds (Netherlands, 1995):

A tad too fast for my liking, but Claudette bears up pretty well under the super-sonic treatment. The Firebirds clearly have their hearts in the right place and energy to burn! 


Kamikaze Trio (Melbourne, 2004)
“Claudette Jones” meets straight-ahead Oz rock: complete with a very modern drum sound and a blatant absence of fuzz or Farfisa. But the fact it remains listenable is testament to the song’s timeless appeal. Listen here

And finally, The Tol-Puddle Martyrs!
It’d be remiss of me not to include this 2006 video, featuring the reformed Tol-Puddle Martyrs and certain faces from around the current Melbourne music scene that some of you might recognise….

* No question about it: the best version of “Louie Louie” ever recorded was by The Sonics.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Then and now: time-warping in Port Phillip Arcade

I’d never been in Port Phillip Arcade until a couple of weekends ago — it just hadn’t registered in my consciousness, despite its Flinders Street frontage and intriguing metal King Neptune sculpture above the entrance. Compared to some of this city’s better known, grander arcades (Block Arcade, for example) Port Phillip Arcade isn’t what you’d call a head-turner.

In fact, with the exception of Neptune, it’s rather drab.


Still, there’s something defiantly no-frills and untrendy about it, which in this faddish age is kinda sweet, I guess. Home to cheap’n’cheerful Asian eateries, a cake-decorating emporium, an enormous stamp shop that’s apparently been there since the year dot, an engraver and a cafĂ©, Port Phillip Arcade is nothing if not utilitarian.

But let’s face it: it’s seen better days…
Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969 (National Library of Australia)
Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969 (State Library of Victoria)
Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969 (National Library of Victoria)
These gorgeous photos by Wolfgang Sievers show the arcade looking shiny and modern, with its American coffee shop and its ‘cake bar’ (anyone know what a hamburger puff is?).

Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969 (State Library of Victoria)
I’m guessing Lillian Lingerie (below) catered more to the budget-minded shopper than the babelicious if the window display is anything to go by. 

Check out the painting above the doorway of the store next to Lillian's! Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969 (State Library of Victoria).
For those whose historical interests extend to ye olde colonial times, here’s an interesting fact: Port Phillip Arcade stands on the site of the former Port Phillip Club Hotel, a venerable old building dating from 1838. But who should come along to demolish it in 1960? None other than the notorious Whelan the Wrecker — a name synonymous with the loss of much of Melbourne’s pre-modern architectural heritage… 

Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969 (State Library of Victoria)

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