P 1972 and tP A and I Still Call Australia Home (P Allen) 1979 – Peter Allen.
Peter Allen (real name Peter Woolnough) was born in the country hamlet of Tenterfield (NSW) in 1944, o parents Richard and Marion Woolnough (above Peter with mother Marion), and found fame with English immigrant Chris Bell as half of the Allen Brothers, a pop due who became regulars on Bandstand. Inspired by the Everly Brothers, they were clean-cut, wore sharp suits, did covers of other peoples’ songs, used choreographed dance movements, and mostly sang in tune, occasionally Chris would play guitar to accompany their performances. The duo segued from their on-screen success to live cabaret and recordings with Festival Records, hitting the charts several times in the 1960’s with several teenage crush-type pop songs – My Secret (#22) and Pretty Keen Teen (#26) in 1960. Below L-R Peter and Chris Allen
In 1967 Peter was discovered by Mark Herron, Judy Garland’s husband, whilst performing in Hong Kong, and he returned with Judy and her daughter Liza Minelli, whom he would soon wed, to pursue a career in the USA. Below L-R – Peter Allen, Judy Garland, Chris Allen, Mark Herron, Liza Minelli 1965.
In 1972 Peter Allen made a brief return to Australia, the experience inspired him to write one of his best-known songs, the reflective and autobiographical Tenterfield Saddler, which poignantly captured childhood memories of his family and growing up in rural NSW. The autobiographical narrative told the moving story of Peter’s life, from his memories of his much-loved grandfather, George Woolnough, the titular “Tenterfield saddler” in the song, “he worked on High Street, and lived on Manners (another street name in the town), through his formative years, living in nearby Armidale, where he first took lessons in piano and dance.
Peter grew up in an abusive home, his father was a returned soldier who in more enlightened times, would have been diagnosed with PTSD and given appropriate treatment, but he became an alcoholic and committed suicide when Peter was a young boy, “something was wrong, and it’s easier to drink than go crazy” and “George had no answers about why a son ever has need of a gun.” The song also referenced Peter’s marriage to Liza Minelli ” a girl with an interesting face” and the peripatetic lifestyle he charted as a jobbing performer and composer travelling the globe ” been all ’round the world, and lives no special place.” The song is beautifully orchestrated and emotionally builds from a soft, plaintive intro to something more anthemic, and yet the vulnerability, and wistful quality of Allen’s vocals shines through, as he recounts the moving story of his family.
He and Liza divorced in 1974, it had been a troubled relationship, Peter was sleeping with men and had even had an affair with Mark Herron, Judy Garland’s fourth husband who was his father-in-law. The marriage of Peter and Liza echoed the marital union of Liza’s parents Judy Garland and her second husband Vincent Minelli, as Vincent led a closeted life as a gay/bisexual man and their marriage ended after six years. Below L-R Peter and Liza, Peter and Liza’s wedding, Judy Garland and Vincent Minelli.
These times were not as enlightened towards gay men and women as they would ultimately become, with a changing of attitudes, and legalization of same sex marriage, in the future. Many prominent performers had chosen to conceal their gender preferences – Cliff Richard, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Mathis, Lesley Gore, Les McKeown (Bay City Rollers), Janis Ian, Dave Davies (Kinks), Arthur Conley, Billy Preston, Fred Schneider (B-52s) and others, for fear of a fan backlash, blackmail. or worse, actual prosecution. Below L-R – Peter with Barry Manilow, Liberace, and his partner Greg Connell.
Peter ultimately became more comfortable with his homosexuality, and his long-time partner Greg Connell, became his live show sound and lighting co-ordinator, although Allen would never be an outspoken supporter of the gay rights movement, throughout his life.
Peter formed close working relationships with such US songwriters as Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach. Christopher Cross, David Foster, and Dean Pitchford, and Tenterfield Saddler was re-released in 2015 following the screening of the Peter Allen mini-series, Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door, and it charted #53. Below Academy Award Ceremony for Best Original Song 1982 L-R Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen, the co-composers of Arthur’s Theme.
Allen would record his first solo album, Taught By Experts in 1976 in Los Angeles with producer Brooks Arthur, the songs were mostly funky pop with a Broadway sensibility, and although the album failed to fire in the US market, it made #11 in Australia, and two songs that were featured were hits her as well, The More I See You (#10 in ’76), and I Go To Rio (#1 in ’77). Allen’s lack of chart success in the US with his own recordings was puzzling, vocally he was comparable to Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, and even Billy Joel, but he may have been too theatrically cabaret in style to connect with pop music fans of the 70’s, although he wrote numerous pop hits for other artists during his career.
The More I See You originally featured on the soundtrack of the 1945 Betty Grable film Diamond Horseshoe, and was covered by Chris Montez in 1966, after he had failed to follow up his 1962 hit Let’s Dance. Herb Alpert had signed him to A&M Records, and convinced the Hispanic-American rocker to record an easy-going middle of the road song, and against his own instincts he did. The song reignited his career, and he would take three more songs into the US top 40.
Peter Allen’s version does not stray too far from the Montez template, but he did have a crack team of musicians in the recording session with him – Herb Alpert on trumpet, 1960’s pop queen Lesley Gore on backing vocals, Carole King’s ex-husband Charles Larkey on bass, Thom Rotella on acoustic guitar, and Peter himself on piano. Bobby Rosario’s orchestration was also right on the money, and the song was a surprise hit here, but not elsewhere. Below L-R – Peter (2), and Peter with Ian “Molly” Meldrum.
I Go To Rio was co-composed by Allen and Adrienne Anderson, it was the most distinctive song on the album, possessing an effervescent, campy, calypso-inflected samba beat, which cleverly blended piano, electric piano, percussion, and maraccas, and became a live performance favourite.
The music vid for this song featured a lithe, nimble, lanky, ebullient Peter Allen on a soundstage with a backdrop of the bay of Rio De Janeiro, dressed in a white suit, Hawaiian shirt with pineapple motifs, open to the navel, and two-tone spectator shoes, as he pounded a white piano festooned with flowers, fans, and maraccas. He was literally a human ball of flamboyant energy as he tickled the ivories, danced the samba, shook his maraccas, then flung his jacket away, untied his shirt and finished by dancing across the stage in a wife beater T-shirt while busting some more snake-hipped samba dance moves – energy, passion, vitality personified – and the tropicana-infused hooks and riffs never stopped coming, it should have been a big international hit. He performed this song at the New York Radio City Music Hall with a chorus line of Rockettes after he had been carried onto stage on the back of a camel, and wowed the audience!
Molly Meldrum plugged the promo clip on Countdown and it became a surprise national #1, and also made top 30 in NZ, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In 2011 Coldplay front man Chris Martin acknowledged that he had been influenced by I Go To Rio in his writing of the Coldplay million-seller Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall and Allen and Adrienne Anderson were accorded joint composer status on the Coldplay hit. Despite Allen’s lack of personal chart success internationally, Peter enjoyed an illustrious career penning hits for others, his songs were covered by Peggy Lee, Carly Simon, Dionne Warwick, Patti LaBelle, Judy Collins and he wrote hits for Olivia Newton-John (I Love You, I Honestly Love You), Melissa Manchester (Don’t Cry Out Loud), Rita Coolidge (I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love), Arthur’s Theme (Oscar-winning film theme song), and other songs for himself including the anthemic I Still Call Australia Home, and You Haven’t Heard The Last Of Me.
I Still Call Australia Home was an anthemic song which captured the feelings of nostalgia and longing for home by expatriates, it was Allen’s valentine to his country of birth, and lyrically Peter certainly wore his heart on his sleeve “I’m always travelin’/And I love bein’ free/So I keep leavin’ the sun and the sea/But my heart lies waiting over the foam/I still call Australia home”. The rousing patriotic nature of the song lent itself to commercial promotion and the showcasing of grand events – Qantas advertisements, Commonwealth Games ceremonies and AFL Grand Finals, and began life as a proclamation that Peter would make after each session of his successful Broadway show Up In One that “No matter how far, or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home”. It was after one of these shows that a record company executive suggested he write music to accompany these heartfelt words, record the song, and include it on his next album, Bi-Coastal, but there was insufficient time to complete the songwriting and recording in time. This tense and tender ballad which was ultimately recorded in waltz time, evoked feelings of longing, and a desire to be reunited with family and friends, was never released as a single, and only appeared on Greatest Hits albums by Allen, but it became a live performance favourite, and was included in the National Film and Sound Archives as a significant Song of Australia in 2013. The song was also used to close the musical The Boy From Oz based on Allen’s life which became an international hit, and earned a Tony Award for Hugh Jackman as Best Actor In A Musical in the lead role, in 2004.
Peter Allen contracted HIV/AIDS and sadly passed away in 1992 at the age of 48, his partner Greg Connell would also contract HIV/AIDS and pass away 8 years later, Peter was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame along with Cold Chisel in 1993. Below- Peter and Hugh Jackman in his lead role for the musical The Boy From Oz.