Thursday, August 17, 2017

Potted history of Australian Record Companies

Festival Records was founded in Sydney in 1952. The company was started by a merchant bank called Mainguard, when they purchased a small record pressing company, Microgroove Australia. The artists and repertoire (A&R) manager, Les Welsh (former band leader) pulled off a coop when he managed to acquired the Australian rights to Bill Haley’s "Rock Around The Clock" in 1955 and the song which featured in the movie “Blackboard Jungle,” went on to become the biggest-selling record ever released in Australia up to that time.

Ironically Les Welsh disliked Rock’n’Roll but he knew the market well enough to know where to invest. He fell out with Festival Records management and was replaced by Ken Taylor (a disc jockey). Ken Taylor also disliked Rock’n’Roll but that did not stop him from singing the three top Rock’n’Roll artists of the 50s to Festival Records : Johnny O'Keefe and the Dee Jays; Col Joye and the Joy Boys; and Dig Richards and the R'Jays. Bill Haley had met Johnny O’Keefe on his Australian tour and the two became good friends. Although Haley had personally recommended Johnny to Festival records, Johnny took matters into his own hands and had a quite word with a friendly journo, telling him, Festival Records had signed the act. The first thing the company knew was when they read it all in the press. Despite healthy sales, parent company Mainguard was in serious financial trouble and in 1957 Festival Records was sold to property magnate L J Hooker. Under Hooker who did like the music, Festival Records produced its first home grown number one hit with (Real) Wild one by Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays (1958).

The absence of international acts combined with poor management meant Festival Records were again running at a loss, when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Limited in 1961. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass were emerging in the US as a tour de force and their record company signed distribution rights with Festival Records. When "The Lonely Bull" became a worldwide hit, A&M Records were sufficiently impressed with Festival Records they started to supply a stream of top-selling U.S. acts including The Carpenters into Australia. Soon Festival was back on top. Company Chairperson, Alan Hely cultivated distribution deals with local and International record companies which gave Festival exclusive Australian rights to a steady stream of international hit albums and singles. Festival dominated the Australian pop scene of the mid-to-late 1960s, recording and/or distributing some of the most popular Australian acts of the decade, including Normie Rowe, Billy Thorpe, The Bee Gees, Ray Brown & The Whispers, Tony Worsley & The Fabulous Blue Jays, Jimmy Little, Noelene Batley, Mike Furber, The Dave Miller Set, Johnny Young, Wild Cherries and Jeff St John.

Meantime the R'Jays had became Festival's house band and although the studio was pretty basic, lacking many facilities including an 'echo chamber' (they used the loo), Pat Aulton the house producer, was responsible for more Australian-made hits than any other record producer of his era despite his primitive surroundings. In 1970, Festival established a new progressive music label called, Infinity Records. The intention was to market the new generation of progressive rock acts which included the "new" Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs and Sydney’s new sensation Sherbet.

During the 70s and early 80s Festival records formed an alliance with Melbourne based Mushroom Records and together enjoyed continuing success during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Mushroom Records was formed by Michael Gudinski and Ray Evans in 1972. The company had struggled in its earlier years until their fortunes dramatically turned around when Skyhooks debut album became a best seller in 1975. Good fortune continued when they signed New Zealand’s Split Enz and scored another huge hit with their album, True Colours. During the eighties Mushroom had more international success with The Saints, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Paul Kelley and Jimmy Barnes among many others. When Cold Chisel broke up Jimmy Barnes signed with Mushroom Records and launched his solid career with the album Bodyswerve. The album was immediately successful, entering the Australian charts at Number One. This was the first of a remarkable run of top charting albums for Jimmy Barnes, as each of his first six solo albums all debuted in the Number One position. In 1998 Festival and Mushroom Records merged and the company was renamed Festival Mushroom Records (FMR).

One of the oldest independent music publishing companies in Australia is J Albert & Son., and in the sixties there was an off shoot of the company called Albert Productions. They set about signing up local musical talent and snapped up the Easybeats.

The group had phenomenal success in Australia but alas only fleeting interest internationally. Not of course before making important contacts and learning more about the pop business. Albert Productions encouraged Harry Vanda and George Young back to Oz and meantime signed a new act from Melbourne called John Paul Young.

The former Easybeats set to writing material for him. Pasadena was a massive hit and John Paul Young temporarily suspended leaving the business. Vanda and Young became producers and worked with other Australian acts including a new and up and coming rock outfit, The band members included George’s two younger’s who went onto modest success as ACDC The groups cd sales are estimated at 120 million worldwide.

Albert Productions continued to promote Australian talent with acts like Stevie Wright, Ted Mulry, The Angels, Rose Tattoo, Flash And The Pan and Choirboys. Albert Productions eventually signed a deal with Festival Mushroom Records which ensured the back catalogue of these acts could be digitised and once again heard. In October 2005 Festival Mushroom Records was sold and as of 2006, it has become one of the record labels operated by the Warner Music Group (WEA International Inc.).

Worth a listen:
Bill Haley and the Comets
Rock around the clock (1956)

Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays
(Real) Wild One (1958)

Col Joye and Joy Boys
Oh yeah , uh huh (1959)

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
The Lonely Bull (1962)

Jimmie Little
Sweet Mama

Easy beats
Friday on my mind (1966)

Normie Rowe
Shakin' All Over (1967)

Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs
Most people I know (1972)

You’ve got the gun (1972)

John Paul Young
Pasadena (1972)

All our friends are getting married (1975)

Split Enz
I Got You (1975)

Ted Mulry Gang
Jump in my car (1976)

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