Saturday, 24 January 2015

Comedy and jazz from lost Melbourne: All Aboard! - Alan Rowe The One-Man Show (196?) and Graeme Bell & His Dixieland Jazz Band (1947)

Comedy is one of the most ephemeral art forms there is. What people find funny is very specific to a time and place and it dates almost immediately. While this can make comedy from only a couple of years ago seem stale and boring, that same effect can make comedy from decades or centuries ago incredibly illuminating in terms of understanding that culture and getting a feel for the real world of the bourgeoisie.

Alan Rowe was a very family-friendly comedian who did impressions, sang songs and performed bits about the suburban experience in Melbourne around the early sixties. His was an old-fashioned, one-man show in the vaudeville tradition. To a modern listener, this kind of performance can sound a bit Arthur Atkinson from The Fast Show, but there’s no question that Alan was a consummate performer with original material and a good rapport with his audience. One of my favourite bits, and one that illustrates the timelessness of certain Melbourne institutions, is the one where Alan calls the running of a train on the Frankston line in the style of a horse racing announcer. With a few minimal updates, you could probably perform this routine today and still get laughs in Melbourne. Rowe's songs Living In A Flat and Dad’s Lost Weekend likewise reflect an early celebration of Australian suburban-ness that is still recognisable today.

Rowe’s final bit relates a story of a booking for a show in which all the other acts cancel, leaving Alan to take their place via his impressions. He replicates a female soprano, a bass baritone (“Michael Row The Boat Ashore), a countrified harmonica (“Home On The Range”), a banjo-mandolin player and finally as Graeme Bell’s six-piece Dixieland Jazz Band. I was pleasantly surprised to see that at the time Graeme Bell was such a well-known fixture in Australian pop culture as to be an instantly familiar reference.

To round out this little sonic window into lost Melbourne, here’s a 10” 78RPM record by Graeme Bell & His Dixieland Jazz Band that I found in a Reservoir op-shop. Ever the skilled showman, even with only his voice and a piano Alan does a pretty good impression of the band.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The REAL hidden, late-career Libaek treasure: White Midnight - Sven Libaek (1983)

EDIT 11/01/2015: When I posted this a month ago, I uploaded the wrong song. I had accidentally uploaded The Settlement; an original Libaek soundtrack composition which can be found on the I Love Australian Movies LP. A nice track  to be sure, but not of the quality of White Midnight, which has now been uploaded to the player below.

Sven Libaek produced so much wonderful music during his career, but at some point in the late seventies his output suddenly became very schmaltzy and unremarkable. Gone are the exciting, idiosyncratic soundtracks, replaced with easy listening orchestral cheese. I see these late-career records regularly in my travels and sometimes I can’t resist buying them, despite knowing full well they’re going to be terrible, due to my deeply ingrained love of Libaek.

Every now and again, I find that these records harbour a song worth listening to or even, in this case, a flat-out excellent example of the Libaek genre. 1983’s Love Is In The Air is a collection of pedestrian covers played by the Sven Libaek Orchestra and is unlikely to be included in the Libaek classic canon. However, buried in the middle of the second side is White Midnight, a song written by Sven and originally recorded in 1965 by The Saints (not the well-known Australian punk rock band) on their obscure Australian skiing record, Ski With The Saints, which Libaek produced for CBS.

This track, despite bearing sonic hallmarks that make it clear it was recorded in the eighties, is pure golden-era Libaek, sounding like it could be a condensed section from Australian Suite or an excerpt from one of Sven’s soundtracks. Have a listen and be the judge: is this a lost Libaek gem, or what?