John “Fuzzy” Lee (guitar, baritone vocals), ex-carpenter, and Mel Noonan, ex-TV technician, (guitar, bass vocals) had originally performed as The Folksingers around Brisbane clubs, and in 1965 they added Robert Elford (guitar, tenor vocals) to become the MOR trio New World. They developed a profile locally by finishing in the finals of The Holden Showcase, a national TV talent quest show, for three consecutive years, John Kane replaced Elford as the tenor voice, and the band signed with EMI and headed into the Albert Music studios in Sydney to record their debut single Try to Remember, a song from the off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks
The Fantasticks was first staged in Greenwich Village in 1960, and is almost the musical equivalent of Agatha Christie’s long-running London West End whodunit The Mousetrap, running consecutively for over 40 years and 17,000 performances, until its closure in 2002, only to re-open again in 2006, it is the only off-Broadway production to win a Tony Award for Excellence.
Written by Tom Jones (lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) it tells the story of a boy and girl who fall in love but are opposed by their respective parents who build a wall to separate the two, but who in reality want their two willfully disobedient children to get married, this reverse psychology is based on the notions that “without a hurt, the heart is hollow” and that “ love will never prosper unless it is forbidden”.
Try to Remember is the opening song in the show, and its rhyming lyrics are designed to get the audience to imagine what the sparse sets suggest, rhyming remember with September, so tender, ember, and December and then repeating the sequence later in the song by rhyming mellow, yellow, and callow fellow, then again later in the second verse willow, pillow, billow, and later again follow, hollow, mellow – all the verses end with the word follow. The lyrics also feature an interpolated rhyme in wept and kept, and alliterative lines such as when grass was green and grain was yellow, and without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Try to Remember has been recorded by many artists including the Sandpipers, Julie Andrews, Harry Belafonte, Roger Whittaker, and Nana Mouskouri, and it has a nostalgic, wistful, dreamy, lullaby feel to it, that was perfect for the group.
New World traded in soft acoustic guitar sounds and narrative lyricism that suited their subtle vocal counter-harmonies, often with spoken word inserts to heighten dramatic effect, they were compared to the Seekers and the Irish trio The Bachelors, and their debut record climbed to #12 nationally and in 1970 they played way to London as the resident act on a P&O liner.
After relocating to the UK, New World struggled to make an impact in a market more fixated on hard rock and glitter rock than folksy acoustic ditties, they busked in Piccadilly to survive, and lived in a dingy flat in Kilburn, until they were invited to appear on the most prestigious TV talent show in the UK, Opportunity Knocks, compered by the venerable Hughie Green.
The group were a sensation on the show, knocking off Johnny Neal and the Starliners who had triumphed in the previous three weeks, and they went onto win for ten consecutive weeks from October to early December 1970, eclipsing the eight-week winning streak previously set by Mary Hopkins.
New World’s success on Opportunity Knocks was paralleled by the rise of two emerging songwriters and producers in former Brisbane boy Mike Chapman and Londoner Nick Chinn who had thrown in their performing jobs and set about creating what would become one of the most successful partnerships in the UK music industry, storming the charts throughout the 1970’s and being directly responsible for the sale of over 200 million singles and albums.
New World became very hot, very quickly when Chinn and Chapman started to write songs for them, and producer Mickie Most (the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Donovan, Lulu, Suzie Quatro) signed them to his RAK imprint label. Their first release for him was a cover of Joe South’s Rose Garden, which had been a hit for Lynne Anderson, the New World version charted at #15 in the UK but failed to impress in Australia.
Regular appearances on TV in The Two Ronnies and the Morecombe and Wise Show substantially boosted their image in the UK, they were touring the clubs, appearing in pantomimes, teen magazines and formed their own fan club. At the time this seemed to be a relatively benign thing to do, fan clubs were regarded as a credible marketing/communications strategy between bands and their fans. But it would ultimately be thwarted fans who would lead to the group’s down fall in 1972, when the band members would be summonsed to appear at the Old Bailey in London on charges of fraud and conspiracy, related to the postal votes cast for the them, on Opportunity Knocks, back in 1970.