SPECIAL FEATURE – THE FLYING CIRCUS

 

Flying Circus 2

 

Hayride (B Cason/M Gayden) and La La (B Cason/M Gayden) – The Flying Circus 1969

The Flying Circus was formed in August 1967 by New Zealand-born singer, songwriter and lead guitarist Doug Rowe. Before coming to Australia Doug had been a member of two NZ bands, The Saints and Peter Nelson and the Castaways, the latter group had also included future Twilights drummer Laurie Pryor.

Rowe quit The Castaways soon after they arrived in Australia, and the formation of The Flying Circus came about through Doug’s job as a cadet journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald, where he met bassist Bob Hughes, another Herald journo, who shared a mutual interest in country rock. Doug and Bob began jamming regularly at Woolloomooloo’s Frisco Hotel and it was here that they met guitarist Jim Wynne who came on board; the group was completed when drummer Colin Walker, brother of Terry Walker (The Strangers, Pastoral Symphony), was invited to join the band by Hughes. After considering the name Iron Cross, they wisely chose Flying Circus, apparently both names had been inspired by the Charles Schultz comic strip Peanuts, and several novelty songs about Snoopy and the famous WW1 German air ace the Red Baron, by the Florida (US) group the Royal Guardsmen.

The original four-piece Flying Circus started out playing a mixture of country, bluegrass, folk and rock, drawing on a wide range of influences including The Byrds, Dylan, and Revolverperiod Beatles. Doug Rowe began making demo tapes of original songs with the help of his friend, the respected musician-composer-arranger-producer Mike Perjanic, another Kiwi expatriate, who helped the band ink a contract with EMI’s Colombia label in 1968.

Their debut release was preceded by several personnel changes so that that when the band recorded Hayride it comprised Rowe (guitar/vocals), Walker (drums), Wynne (guitar/vocals) and newcomers Greg Grace (vocals/harmonica), and Warren Ward (bass) who had replaced Bob Hughes who would later become infamous as the disgraced actor Robert Hughes from the Australian TV series Hey Dad. Hayride had originally been a minor hit in the US for Gary Lewis and the Playboys, it was trite, formulaic, bubblegum pop, so typical of songs that were coming off the Cason/Gayden, Kasenetz/Katz assembly line at the time, but it was catchy and would give the band their breakthrough hit. The national success of Hayride was also a catalyst for future marketing trends for Australian pop; for even though Flying Circus had not toured outside New South Wales at the time, the song gained considerable interstate exposure via a promotional film-clip made by Aggy Read and David Perry of the Sydney underground media collective UBU, which was aired on nationally-screened TV pop shows such as GTK and Uptight. Along with Zoot, The Valentines, The New Dream, and briefly Pastoral Symphony, Sydney’s Flying Circus became one of the leading exponents of bubblegum pop, an image that they would not succeed in shaking in this country, and would ultimately force them to relocate to Canada to re-create their image, as a more country-rock influenced outfit in the future

 

The Flying Circus pretty much ticked  all the boxes for formulaic bubblegum pop success, although  they were really a more capable group, country rockers masquerading as a teenybopper pop band, their version of Buzz Cason and Mac Gayden’s Hayride went national #19 and was even a minor hit in Canada, despite being banned by some overzealous radio stations in New Zealand for the lyric line “making love in the hay”.

Just to make sure we knew this was a bubblegum song, the intro to the song features cartoonish special effects and closes out with more special effects and a pop-goes-the-weasel coda.

The success of their second single, another one- dimensional Cason/Gayden song entitled La La only compounded their image problem, it was cheesier than its predecessor, there was even a brief Chipmunk-style vocal insert, but this was after all the height of the bubblegum craze and La La turned out to be their biggest hit climbing to #11 nationally. It sold in huge numbers and remarkably it became the biggest -selling Australian group single released to that time, an honor it held until it was overtaken by Zoot’s Eleanor Rigby about a year later; in the studio performance promo clip for La La, only Doug Rowe, Colin Walker and James Wynne appear.

 

The band’s musical choices had been heavily influenced by their producer Mike Perjanik but the band members were definitely complicit in choosing bubblegum pop songs as a means to an end – having a hit record – as guitarist Jim Wynne later recalled “ We were so glad to be in a studio that we would have recorded nursery rhymes. As it turned out, that’s pretty much what happened.”

The band’s last Australian hit single was Run Run Run (December 1969), which was also their last pop release; they had originally been asked to record another Cason-Gayden formula piece called Groupie (which was later a #25 hit for The New Dream) but the band flatly refused, in its place they recorded the Doug Rowe song  Run Run Run, which mimicked their earlier hits and climbed to a very respectable #13 to make it three in a row for the band in 1969

Lineup changes saw the band head back to its country-rock roots lead by Red McKelvie, one of the pre-eminent guitarists in the country, who would later contribute exemplary guitar riffs to Richard Clapton’s hit single Girls on The Avenue. Doug Rowe sadly passed away in 2015.

 

 

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