Stevie Wright, Harry Vanda (Johannes van der Berg), George Young, Dick Diamonde (Dingeman van der Sluys) and Gordon “Snowy” Fleet were all members of migrant families who met in and around the Villawood Migrant Hostel (Sydney), below.The band members never all lived at the hostel at the same time, and when they began to practice together in the Community Hall/Laundry there, only the Vandas were resident in the centre, Dick’s father worked there as a cook, so he frequented the hostel, although the family home was in Chester Hill.Stevie’s father had joined the army and the Wrights moved into a Defence Forces home opposite the Villawood Hostel, Stevie (below left)was performing with a group called the Langdells at Suzie Wong’s Café when he met the young Bee Gees who introduced him to the music and hairstyles of the Beatles. He immediately changed musical direction and having heard about the practice sessions at the hostel, became very interested in joining the band.
Ultimately Stevie had to beat off a challenge for the lead vocals position from another English emigrant John Bell (centre of group shot below), who ultimately became front man for the Throb who had a few hits, most notably a cover of Fortune Teller, and became known as the “poor man’s Easybeats”.George (above right with Stevie) visited the hostel occasionally to see a girl he fancied who lived there, he was one of eight children, the family had emigrated from the insalubrious east Glasgow suburb of Cranhill, one of the post-war high rises that had sprung up in Longstone Road, where the Youngs had lived. But the conditions at Villawood were so bad, wet, hot, vermin-riddled, and unhealthy, that the Youngs pooled their resources and purchased a home in the Sydney suburb of Burwood. George and his six brothers could all play musical instruments, it was a family tradition, and sister Margaret was an avid collector of black American blues and rock and roll records which influenced her younger brother’s future musical directions.
Drummer Gordon “Snowy” Fleet (above left) was the genuine article, a Geordie from Bootle, Liverpool, who had played with several Liverpool bands, the Nomads and the Mojos, but he had sold his drums and emigrated to Australia in search of job security to support his wife and young child. It was Stevie who recruited him, he was a talented drummer and well versed in the beat music playbook- a strong backbeat with an emphasis on all the beats of a 4/4 bar. Despite the age difference, Snowy was almost 27 and nine years older than Stevie Wright, but he quickly bonded with his band mates, photographed above with Dick Diamonde on the right.From their unique blend of Dutch, English, and Scottish musical experiences they formed one of the most successful, era-defining bands in the history of Australian contemporary music, and would go on to influence world musical trends for the next fifty years. Stevie Wright had moved in with the Young family and he and George began their famous songwriting partnership around the Young’s front room piano in Burwood.
The band were a live act sensation, performing at pubs in Taylor Square (above right), the Bowl, Beatle Village in Oxford St (Syd) and Surf City (above left). After signing with local Sydney record label Alberts, at the behest of their manager, former real estate salesman Mike Vaughan (below), and a young Ted Albert, who convinced others of the band’s potential. They blazed a trail of hit singles beginning with For My Woman, their debut top 40 entry in April 1965 which was recorded at the 2UW Theatre (Syd.)A Wright/Young R&B composition, it was a plaintive, anguished, lament from a yearning Little Stevie, unlike the more up -tempo British beat-band-influenced pop songs for which they would become famous in the future. This record demonstrated that the Easybeats had raw talent to burn, George’s rhythm guitar and Harry’s lead guitar solos where notable. They could write and perform a luminous kind of bluesy garage rock not unlike the Rolling Stones and the Pretty Things, and were an original and unique group, with a charismatic front-man in Stevie Wright whose stage presence was punctuated by spins, back flips, tambourine slaps and crotch-thrusting emotional manipulation of the mostly female audience.The threat posed by the Easybeats was noted by Billy Thorpe at the time, in Jane Alberts book The House of Hits “I walked into Surf City and heard what was then and remains to this day one of the greatest, tightest, bawdiest, kick-arse rock ‘n’ roll sounds ever created. And it was by a bunch of guys my age, fronted by this little leprechaun who was an absolute natural … within a year they had the country by the balls.”In 1965 they would take three more singles onto the charts – She’s So Fine (#3), Wedding Ring (#7), Sad, Lonely and Blue (#21) and their debut album Easy (#4); in 1966 they would completely dominate the national charts as “Easyfever” raged – Women (Make You Feel Alright)(#4), Come and See Her (#3), I’ll Make You Happy (#1), and Sorry (#1), plus the albums Its 2 Easy (#3), and Volume 3 (#7).
The Easybeats had blitzed the charts in the period 1965-66, because they were unique not only for the quality of their musicianship and live performances but because they wrote all their own songs, which was rare among local artists at the time who generally relied on beat covers of existing songs, although there were a few other exceptions – the Loved Ones, Masters Apprentices, Brian Cadd (The Groop/Axiom), the Bee Gees, Terry Britten (The Twilights), Hans Poulsen (The 18th Century Quartet), and Laurie Allen (Bobby and Laurie).
The decision by the band to move to the UK to gamble on international success, was not one that was taken unanimously at first. Gordon “Snowy” Fleet was married with a daughter who he would have to leave behind, and Dick Diamonde came from a fervent Jehovah’s Witness family who were bitterly opposed to Dick’s pursuit of worldly fame and success, equating it with a form of idolatry.
Even more tragic was the death of Harry’s wife Pam, who was suffering from post-natal depression following the birth of the couple’s son Johan, only five months before. Distraught at not being able to accompany her husband overseas, she committed suicide on July 4th. Six days later the band left for the UK to face their biggest professional challenge, while still dealing with grief, the loneliness of separation from loved ones, and having to endure the hand-to-mouth existence of a struggling band in the most highly competitive music market in the world.
The farewell shot of the band waving goodbye from atop the steps of their Qantas aircraft on July 10th. 1966, that would take them to London, included a secret sign from Harry Vanda that his baby son was also on board the flight and going back to live with his grandparents in Holland. Harry was waving little Johan’s teddy bear above his head.
That they succeeded is remarkable. From their dingy Willesden Green flat in London, Vanda and Young, worked at crafting their greatest song. Stevie Wright was no longer the lyricist for the band, although he had written seven of their last eight hit songs with George Young, he was increasingly distracted by drugs and a turbulent lifestyle. That said, he was still an impressive front man and his vocal interpretation of Friday On My Mind would perfectly complement the complex and beguiling Harry Vanda guitar solos and metronomic rhythm support of Young, Diamonde and Fleet, once they got into the recording studio.Voted the best Australian song of all time by APRA in the period 1926-2001, Friday On My Mind was recorded in the UK at the Abbey Road studios under the guidance of American producer, former Chicagoan Shel Talmy (below centre, with Who members Keith Moon and Peter Townshend) who had worked closely with the Who (My Generation) and the Kinks (You Really Got Me). The song was a contemporary mod anthem, evocative of such bands as the Small Faces and has become a working-class tribute to slogging through boring jobs Monday to Friday until the blissful release on Friday night and the weekend beyond.
A crash of cymbals precedes the opening staccato of guitar chords which are intriguing and draw the listener into the verses, Stevie is plaintive and impatient for the working week to end, he uses vocal melismas on the words “baaad” and “naaag” to emphasize his frustration. He leads us to the countdown of the days of the week until the glorious chorus which carries the whole band forward in a call-and-response chant “Gonna have fun in the city/(Dadadadadadaa) Be with my girl, she’s so pretty/(Dadadadadadadaa) She looks fine tonight/ She is out of sight to me/Tonight I’ll spend my bread, tonight/ I’ll lose my head, tonight / I got to get tonight”/ Monday I’ll have Friday on my mind.” The group has confirmed that the opening chords of the song were inspired by an a cappella performance of a song by the French jazz/classical vocal group the Swingle Singers which they saw in a short feature before a movie they attended in London. Harry and George adapted the vocal harmonies of the Swingles, which they had initially derided, to become the opening guitar riffs to Friday, Vanda and Young were already proving to be artful appropriators of diverse musical influences.
Although the band has denied that the song was a class statement, such lyrics as “nothing else that bugs me /more than working for the rich man,” resonated with Australians who see themselves as an egalitarian lot; and Harry and George were respectively an apprentice printer and draftsman, who would have longed for Friday night, and the attractions of the city. Friday On My Mind was a revelation, sharp, punchy, provocative and as powerful as the best mod anthems that were then charting for the Who, Kinks, Small Faces, and the Hollies.
Unique for its time the song did not possess an overtly danceable beat, its Eastern-influenced interweaving guitar parts were quite complex, but the lyrics were so engaging, celebratory, and listenable, that no one really noticed. Except George Young, who felt that the group were shifting dangerously away from their roots, as he subsequently revealed in Jane Albert’s book House of Hits, “Friday On My Mind was such a departure from the kind of band that we were. We were a three-chord pop rock band and Friday On My Mind was a classic-influenced piece of pop music, so we wanted to go back to the more traditional pop rock thing.”
The song was truly an international hit – #1 in Australia for eight weeks, #1 in the Netherlands, #6 in the UK, #16 in the USA, and when Paul McCartney first heard the song on his car radio, he was so impressed that he pulled into a roadway garage and phoned the BBC requesting that they replay it – and they did! The Easies toe-tapping, working class, three -minute, power pop tribute to the TGIF syndrome has become their most recognizable composition and a national musical icon, it was their third consecutive national #1 record, and the 10th biggest-selling record of 1966.The song has been covered by such artists as the Shadows, David Bowie, Peter Frampton, Gary Moore, Blue Oyster Cult, Rickie Lee Jones, and in 2001 in a duet by Vanessa Amorosi and Lee Kernaghan. It has also echoed down the years in the compositions of others, anticipating the end of the working week and the revelry beyond – Working for The Weekend (Loverboy 1981), Out With My Baby (Guy Sebastian 2004) and the dance anthem Ready For The Weekend (Calvin Harris 2009).History records that the Easybeats would fail to produce the elusive follow up hit single to sustain what looked to be a promising international career, Snowy and then Dick would depart the band, and Stevie Wright (above) would go solo, while continuing to battle a crippling life-long addiction to heroin. Harry and George would emerge as the most celebrated song writing team in the history of Australian popular music, writing and producing hits for a diverse roster of artists – AC/DC, Stevie Wright, John Paul Young, the Marcus Hook Roll Band and Flash and the Pan (Harry and George’s alter egos), William Shakespeare, Alison McCallum, the Angels, Rose Tattoo, Cheetah, Ted Mulry, Mark Williams, and others, as they moved on to reinvent themselves within the Australian music industry as the go-to songwriters/producers at Alberts Music for the next forty years.
BEST ORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN SONGS
1950’s AND 60’s – THE TOP TEN
1.Friday on My Mind – Easybeats
2.The Loved One – The Loved Ones
3.The Real Thing – Russell Morris
4.To Love Somebody – The Bee Gees
5 The Pub with No Beer – Slim Dusty
6.Spicks and Specks – The Bee Gees.
7.The Wild One – Johnny O’Keefe
8 Bombora – The Atlantics
9 I Belong with You – Bobby and Laurie
10 Undecided – Masters Apprentices
Everlovin’ Man – The Loved Ones
Sorry – The Easybeats
I Gotta Get A Message To You – The Bee Gees
I’ll Make You Happy- The Easybeats
Words -The Bee Gees
The Girl That I Love- Russell Morris
Krome-Plated Yabby- Wild Cherries
Living In A Child’s Dream – Masters Apprentices
St Louis – Easybeats
I Started A Joke – The Bee Gees