|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Groups & Solo Artists|
Baby-boomers will probably remember musician-composer Hans Poulsen for his 1970 solo hit "Boom Sha La La Lo", and for the lovely track he penned for Russell Morris, "It's Only A Matter of Time", the B-side of Russell's monster hit "The Real Thing". But the great breadth of Hans' musical achivements is often overlooked, partly because his music is usually categorised as being at the "folk" or "soft rock" end of the spectrum. For this reason, apparently, he doesn't rate an entry in Vernon Joyson's weighty tome on Australian psych-pop, although he appears in both Noel McGrath and Ian McFarlane's Encyclopedias.
Hans' period of solo success is well recorded, but the early part of his career was not well documented until recently, so we're fortunate that two former bandmates, Ted Baarda and Keith Glass, have written detailed recollections of the time they spent working with Hans in the early incarnations of pioneering Melbourne band 18th Century Quartet.
Ian McFarlane describes Hans as "Australia's resident hippie eccentric" and his bandmates' accounts do suggest that his "artistic temperament" may have made him a bit difficult to work with at times. But this would hardly make him an isolated case in the creative arts, and whatever his personal foibles as a young man, he was and remains an immensely talented musician and songwriter. Ian McFarlane also very rightly points out that, throughout his career, Hans has maintained "a positive and optimistic outlook on life". This alone must be counted as a tremendous achievement, because Hans has faced more than his fair share of adversity, including a battle with cancer in the '70s and a near-fatal brain haemorrage in the '90s. Yet, against enormous odds, Hans fought back and recovered sufficiently to return to his first love -- producing beautiful music.
According to Noel McGrath's 1978 Encyclopedia, Hans was born in Denmark in 1945, but this seems to have been something of a romantic fiction. Former bandmate Ted Baarda's website indicates that Hans' given name was Bruce Gordon Poulsen and that he was born in Melbourne on 7 May 1945. Hans was however of Danish descent -- his grandfather migrated to Victoria at the turn of the 20th century (he lived into his nineties, when Hans was beginning his musical career with 18th Century Quartet) and his grandson took the name Hans Sven to honour his Danish heritage.
What is not in doubt, however, is that Hans was a musical prodigy. He was greatly influenced by his parents Vic and Nellie, who were amateur musicians with a large repertoire of bush ballads, country & western (then known as "hilbilly" music) and Hawaiian music. Hans became a prolific songwriter at an early age and reputedly amassed a stockpile of more than 300 original songs while he was still in his teens; he was also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who could play ten different instruments, including guitar, piano, harpsichord, mandolin, recorder, autoharp, balalaika and bouzouki. (We can safely assume that, despite the hilarious misprint in Noel McGrath's Encyclopedia, Hans did not play "the bazooka".)
18th Century Quartet- see main article on Eighteenth Century Quartet
Hans spent about two years with the groundbreaking acoustic ensemble Eighteenth Century Quartet , with multi-intrumentalists Ted Baarda, Steve Dunstan and Ron Snellgrove. All four members composed, and the band wrote and recorded several dozen original songs although, sadly, many of the original tapes were later lost. They released only one single, which sold about 1000 copies in Melbourne. The original lineup fell apart in early 1966 and shortly afterwards a new pop-oriented version of the band with Hans, Keith Glass, John Pugh and Frank Lyons was put together by promoter Ian Oshlak, but Hans soon found himself being edged out of the band. The new lineup recorded four new songs -- including a version of Hans' song "Rachel" -- for the Go!! label, but soon after the session Hans parted ways with the 'new' 18CQ and found himself unable to use the name, as Ian Oshlak had registered it for himself. The Go!! recordings marked the end of Hans' involvement with 18CQ, and their later career is recounted in our feature article on the band. Hans reunited with Ted Baarda and they resumed their duo performances, occasionally also working with Steve or Ron. They stockpiled an album's worth of 2-track recordings of new material, which was then assembled into a master reel and transferred onto a 12" LP by Crest Records in Melbourne.
Ted renewed contact with his "uncle" in Buenos Aires, and sent him the custom pressing in hopes of reviving the promoter's interest. That didn't eventuate, but Ted later found out that the pirate label, Fantasia, had pressed it and released it locally and that it was getting airplay there, under the title El Gran Asunto ("The Big Deal"). More misfortune followed -- Mr Rosenthal died late in 1966, contact with the Argentine label was lost, and tragically, Ted later loaned the master tape to a friend, who subsequently lost it! Another 'demo' tape containing some of the same songs was loaned to The Twilights but it too was lost, -- although not before their producer David Mackay heard the Baarda-Poulsen collaboration "Lucky Man", which wound up on The Twilights' 1966 self-titled debut album.
In late 1966 Hans and Ted parted ways for a time, and Hans concentrated on establishing himself as a solo performer and songwriter. In late 1967 he was signed to a recording contract with EMI and his first solo single "Rocking Chair / After Dinner Evening Stroll" was released on Parlophone in January 1968. It was followed by "Coming Home Late Again" / Run Away Children" in December but apparently neither single made any impact.
The following year Hans made another attempt to revive 18CQ. In mid-1968 bassist Rick Van Dam was approached by the Sitmar cruise line to put together a trio to entertain passengers on a Pacific cruise scheduled for July-August of that year. Rick knew Hans from sessions at Armstrong's Studio, so he invited him to join, and Hans called in Ted Baarda to complete the trio. Although they hoped to bring in either Ron Snellgrove or Steve Dunstan for a (three-quarters) reunion of 18CQ, Sitmar's entertainment manager insisted on keeping the act a three-piece. As The Hans Poulsen Trio, they performed twice daily for two months for passengers on the "Fairsea", and also played at shore venues on Hayman Island, Suva and Noumea.
Returning to Melbourne in September, they scored an appearance on Channel 0's Uptight, hosted by Ross D. Wylie, for which they recorded two tracks at Armstrong's, "Coming Home Again" (Poulsen) and "Au revoir Noumea" (Baarda-Poulsen). Hoping to parlay these tracks into a new 18CQ single, Hans tried to persuade Armstrong's chief engineer Roger Savage to overdub a violin part by Ron Snellgrove, but at this point Ron Tudor stepped in and invoked Hans' solo contract and this last chance at an 18CQ revival was reluctantly abandoned.
However, by this time Hans' great songwriting ability was becoming well-known within in the industry and during 1968-69 he enjoyed great success with songs written for some of the biggest names in Australian pop. He penned both "Rose Coloured Glasses" and "Jamie" for John Farnham, "Lady Scorpio" -- recorded by both The Strangers and NZ band The Fourmyula -- the breezy "Monty and Me" for Zoot (co-written with former Seeker Bruce Woodley) and "Everybody's Girl" for NZ band Larry's Rebels.
Undoubtedly, Hans' greatest success as a writer was "It's Only A Matter of Time", which was selected as the B-side of Russell Morris' breakthrough hit "The Real Thing", which shot to #1 in May 1969 and went on to become one of the biggest hits of the decade. Thanks to the massive success of the A-side, and Russell's superb vocal performance, Hans' fine love song took its place alongside "The Real Thing" as one of the enduring classics of Australian 60s pop, and it was included on several of Russell's "Greatest Hits" anthologies.
In 1969 Hans was commissioned to write a short instrumental piece that soon became engraved in the national consciousness. His original theme for the ABC's groundbreaking nightly pop show GTK was used many times. One novel feature pf GTK was was that the show featured four live performances each week (Mon-Thurs) from a selected local group, and over the years many of these bands -- such as Sherbet -- also recorded their own versions of Hans' GTK theme, which were used to open the show for that particular week.
In early 1970 Hans signed with Ron Tudor's newly-established independent label Fable Records. His timing was fortuitous -- soon after he signed with Fable, a cabal of Australian labels ganged together and imposed the infamous 1970 Radio Ban, which resulted in nine-month boycott on the supply of free recordings to commercial radio stations.
Fable was one of the independent companies that refused to participate in the Radio Ban. This opened doors for smaller labels like Fable, as radio stations scrambled to fill their emptied playlists. The other significant effect of the Ban was that it allowed local labels -- particularly Fable -- to release a string of strong cover versions of overseas (mainly British) hits that were, for this brief interval, able to be played on Australian pop stations without competition from the overseas originals. The result was that during 1970, the Melbourne-based Fable Records achieved a previously unheard-of feat, racking up 36 charting records in Sydney alone -- an extraordinary achievement in a period when it was often impossible for Melbourne acts to get airplay in Sydney, and vice-versa. The label scored a string of several chart-topping hits inlcuding Hans' single and Liv Maessen's national #2 hit "Knock, Knock, Who's There?", which became the first single by an Australian female artists to earn a Gold Record.
Thanks in part to Fable's new-found industry 'clout', Hans' scored a major national hit with his first single for Fable, "Boom Sha La La Lo" (April 1970), which he co-wrote with Bruce Woodley. A clip of Hans performing the song on Australian TV (probably from Happening 70) has recently been posted on YouTube. It was only the second single released by the label but it shot into the national Top 10, peaking at #6 in May 1970 and charting for 18 weeks. He had further success with his next single, "Light Across The Valley", which made the Top 40, although it only got as high as #30 (December). Given the dramatic difference in chart placings, it may not be a coincidence that the Radio Ban had ended a month or so earlier.
Hans' debut album Natural High came out during the year, and it featured a stellar lineup of backing musicians including guitarists Billy Green (Doug Parkinson In Focus) and Mick Rogers (Procession, Bulldog), bassists Duncan McGuire (Doug Parkinson In Focus) and Mick Flynn (The Mixtures), and session veterans Graham Morgan and Geoff Hales (drums) and Peter Jones (keyboards), who played on many Fable Albums and Singles, as well as scores of other notable Australian recordings.
Hans made another foray into film music and returned to his surfing roots for the soundtrack of Bruce Beresford's surf movie Getting Back To Nothing. The B-side of Hans' April 1971 single "Stick of Incense" was the title song from the film, and the soundtrack (which was released on Fable) also included two other tracks by Hans, "Surf's Up" and "Bomb Out Baby", as well as contributions from guitarist Billy Green (Doug Parkinson In Focus) and Bruce Woodley.
Fable lifted two more Singles from the album during 1971. "Natural High" (March 1971) -- described by Ian McFarlane as "an underrated psychedelic pop gem" -- was followed in October by "Sweetest Girl I've Ever Seen (Is Always Crying)" but unfortunately neither made the charts. Hans' next single was "Stork's Song" / "Bikie Theme" (Dec. 1971) comprised two tracks written for the soundtrack of Bruce Beresford's next film, Stork, which was adapted from the play The Coming of Stork by David Williamson, and the film that launched the career of actor Bruce Spence. Hans also appeared at several early outdoor music festivals, including Australia's first rock festival at Ourimbah in January 1970, the Wallacia Festival in January 1971 and the Launching Place Festival in March 1971, and In October, with Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, he supported Elton John on his first Australian tour.
Brian Cadd produced and played on Hans' second solo album Lost and Found, Coming Home the Wrong Way Round. Released during 1972, it featured backing from members of The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band and Duncan McGuire. The LP included the song "Coming Home Late Again" which Hans had originally recorded with Ted Baarda and Rick Van Dam in 1968, and which had been intended as the A-side of a planned 18th Century Quartet reunion single that was never released. Two Singles were lifted from the album -- "Meet Me In The Valley" / "Lost & Found" (June) and "Sleepy Town Girl" / "The Wanderer's Song" (November) -- but neither release made any impression on the Australian charts. His last release for Fable was the EP, Hans Poulsen, issued in April 1973 as one of a series of EPs by Fable artists; it consisted of thre of his single A-sides, "Boom Sha La La Lo", "Light Across The Valley" and "Sleepy Town Girl", plus a track from his recent album, "Meet Me In The Valley".
Later in 1972, Hans travelled to the UK and Europe, where he remained for several years. He eventually joined the Findhorn Foundation, the famous alternative community in Scotland. He lived there for three years, and during his stay he contributed songs and performances to two Albums recorded by members of the community -- Can't Be Described In Words and What A Way To Look At Life.
Whlie in London, Hans met up with producer David Mackay, whose successes with The Twilights and other Australian acts had enabled him to move to Britain to work for EMI's parent company in the UK. David produced an LP for Hans entitled Peace and Plenty, which was apparently not released in Australia. At the time Mackay was also producing The New Seekers, the harmony-pop ouftit which had been founded by former Seeker Keith Potger and whose lineup at the time included the Melbourne-born solo singer Peter Doyle. The connection with Mackay led to The New Seekers recording three of Hans' songs -- "The Wanderer's Song", "There's A Light Across The Valley" and "Don't Want To Lose You".
In 1975 Hans travelled to the USA, where he recorded two cassette Albums -- Dancing Shoes (1975) and The Wonderchild Family Songbook (1977) -- and he also gave occasional solo performances. A third album, Bitter Beauty was recorded in the US but not released. Ca. 1982 Hans was diagnosed with cancer, which prompted his return to Australia. He successfully fought the disease and in 1983 he toured and recorded with Bahloo, a group led by another famous Australian musical eccentric, the legendary Brendan "Mook" Hanley.
In the mid-1980s Hans returned to the UK, where he contributed eight songs to the concept musical Time, created Dave Clark, the former lead singer of Sixties UK pop legends The Dave Clark Five. Hans' songs also appeared on the all-star soundtrack album, released in 1986, where they were performed by top international stars Leo Sayer, Ashford & Simpson, Stevie Wonder, Julian Lennon and Cliff Richard. Returning to Australia in the late 1980s, Hans recorded a new cassette album, Sacred Games (A Prelude), which was released in 1989.
While he was in the USA in October 1992, Hans suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrage which left him totally paralysed and in a coma, and doctors initially gave him only a one percent chance of recovery. Incredibly, Hans' indomitable strength and positive outlook helped him to pull through yet again, and by 1993, although now permanently confined to a wheelchair, Hans had recovered sufficiently to record a new album, Carry You In My Heart, which featured some of Australia's finest session musicians including Mark Punch, percussionist Sunil De Silva, drummer Mark Kennedy and saxophonist Tony Buchanan.
While Hans was convalescing in a rehabilitation hospital in Melbourne, his old 18th Century Quartet bandmates Ted Baarda and Ron Snellgrove (who had himself suffered a serious stroke the previous year) learned of his plight, so they arranged with staff to give a performance for the patients and surprise Hans with a reunion. Hans and Ted have remained in touch ever since and have since compiled a 22-track CD anthology of the surviving recordings by the original 18CQ, which was released in 2002.
In the years since his stroke Hans has remained active in music, recording more new material including a album of music for chlidren.
SinglesHans Poulsen solo
"Rocking Chair" / "After Dinner Evening Stroll" (Parlophone A-8280)
"Coming Home Late Again" / "Run Away Children" (Parlophone A-8606)
"Boom Sha La La Lo" / "Mister Curiosity" (Fable FB-002)
"Light Across The Valley" / "Jenny Come Out Of Hiding" (Fable FB-029)
"Stick of Incense" / "Getting Back To Nothing" (Fable FB-055)
B-side is the title song from the Bruce Beresford surf film of the same name
"Sweetest Girl I've Ever Seen" / "Seagull" (Fable FB-080)
"Stork's Song" / "Bikie's Theme" (Fable FB-094)
Music from the Bruce Beresford film Stork
"Sleepy Town Girl" / "Wanderer's Song" (Fable FB-149)
Hans Poulsen (Fable FBEP)
"Boom Sha La La Lo" / "Light Across The Valley" // "Sleepy Town Girl" / "In The Valley"
Natural High (Fable FBSA-004)
1. "Boom Sha La La Lo"
2. "Melancholy World"
3. "Natural high"
4. "Realisation Riverboat Ray"
6. "Silvy Needs A Sugar Daddy"
7. "Sing The Song I Love You"
9. "Stick of Incense"
10. "Sweet Sue"
11. "Sweetest Girl I've Ever Seen"
12. "There's A Light Across The Valley"
Lost and Found, Coming Home the Wrong Way Round (Fable)
1. "Comin' Home The Long Way"
2. "Goodnight Irene"
5. "Just Too heavy"
7. "Lost and Found"
8. "Love Games"
9. "Meet Me In The Valley"
10. "Mother Of Mercy"
11. "My Place"
12. "Under Full Sail"
13. "The Wanderer's Song"
Produced by Brian Cadd
References / Links
"Eighteenth Century Quartet" webpage
"A Life In Music" (originally published in Rhythms Magazine)
Dreams Fantasies & Nightmares - Australia (Borderline Books, 1999)
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock (Outback Press, 1978)
Chris Spencer, Zbig Nowara and Paul McHenry
Who's Who Of Australian Rock (Five Mile Press, 2002)