Stevie Wright, Harry Vanda (Johannes Hendrikus Jacob van den Berg), George Young, Dick Diamonde (Dingeman Vandersluys) and Gordon “Snowy” Fleet were all members of migrant families who lived in and around the Villawood Migrant Hostel (Sydney), and made the laundry there a practice space, and the birthplace of mod rock in this country.
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 Diamonde’s father Harry worked there as a cook, after the family emigrated to Australia in 1951 when Dick was 4 years old, so he frequented the hostel, although the family home was in Chester Hill. Below- Stevie Wright
Stevie’s father had joined the army and the Wrights moved into a Defence Forces home opposite the Villawood Hostel, Stevie 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 (above centre), who ultimately became front man for The Throb who had a few hits and with their mix of English and Dutch migrants became known as the “poor man’s Easybeats”. Below George’s parents William and Margaret Young.
George 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 moved into a larger rental property 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 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, he quickly bonded with his bandmates.
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 Youngs’ front room piano in Burwood.
The band were a live act sensation, performing at pubs in Taylor Square, the Bowl, Beatle Village in Oxford St (Syd) and Surf City. After signing with local Sydney record label Alberts, at the behest of their manager, former real estate salesman Mike Vaughan (above), and 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 solo where notable, they could write and perform a luminous kind of bluesy garage rock not unlike the Rolling Stones, the Animals, 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, backflips, 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.”
Wright/Young again struck gold with She’s So Fine, a sprightly slice of pop that opened with a primal yell from Stevie that was an outtake from an earlier recording session the band had with Ted Albert which required several re-takes. A frustrated Stevie dropped the F-bomb which went to tape, Albert removed the first letter of the expletive and the rest became the distinctive opening to this song. The staccato guitar opening, pounding rhythm section of Fleet and Diamonde and the brutal rhythm attack of George Young, drives the song forward, Stevie exhorts Harry to attack his guitar solo with the melismatic words “Come oooon Haaarry!”, it had the trademark hooks and riffs of early Kinks singles, and it became their first national top 5 hit in June 1965 and the 18th biggest seller for that year.
Gordon “Snowy” Fleet had come up with the band’s name, they had tentatively called themselves The Starfighters, the name of Harry’s old group back in the Netherlands, but it was “Easyfever” that was fueling the pandemonium and would continue to do so for the next two years as the Easybeats assumed the mantle of top local pop group from their fellow Sydneysiders Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs.