|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Groups & Solo Artists|
The Strangers were one of the best and most important Australian pop bands of the 1960s, and their contributions should be better recognised, because they played a vital role in shaping the sound of Australian Sixties pop. They enjoyed considerable success as a recording act, in their own right, gained national recognition through their many concert and TV appearances, and they were universally regarded one of the most versatile and musically accomplished bands in the country. However, because of their versatility and musical skill, they quickly became Australia's most in-demand backing group for recordings, the concert stage and TV. In fact, they backed so many well-known Australian artists during the 1960s that it's not unreasonable to describe them as Australia's version of L.A.'s famous "Wrecking Crew".
Original members Peter Robinson, Laurie Arthur and Fred Weiland all knew each other from Glenroy High School, although they had lost touch after they left school and moved into different bands. Peter met Garth Thompson in 1961 and they talked about the idea of forming a group based around material by popular overseas artists like The Ventures, The Shadows, Rick Nelson, Elvis Presley Carl Perkins, Ray Charles and Hank Ballard. Thanks to a chance meeting with his old friend Laurie Arthur on a train from Glenroy to the city, Peter realised that Laurie and Fred had similar ideas and tastes, so they decided to join forces.
It's fair to describe the original Strangers as an early Melbourne "supergroup", since the four members had already worked with most of the top Melbourne dance bands of the day. Lead guitarist Laurie Arthur had previously played with The Planets and The Chessmen, Fred Weiland had played with The Lincolns, Garth Thompson had played in The Earls, and Peter Robinson had been a member of the illustrious Thunderbirds; prior to forming The Strangers, he had spent 18 months in W.A. as a member of Ray Hoff & The Offbeats.
The Strangers began their performing career at the Glenroy Police Boys' Youth Club, promoting their own dances and also booking and backing many of the current popular solo acts like Johnny Chester, Colin Cook, Kevin "Gulliver" Smith, Beverly Trim, Ian MacCausland, Bobby Shaw, Terry Dean, Merv Benton, The Kay Twins and Betty McQuade. They were soon drawing regular crowds of 800-1200 people every Saturday night, and ploughing the proceeeds back into the lastest musical equipment. They quickly rose to become one of the top bands on the booming Melbourne dance circuit, and they expanded to promote more of their own dances at Essendon Plaza, Newmarket Theatre and Coburg town Hall.
In late 1962, after cutting a series of demos, they signed a contract with local label W&G Records, having already proven their worth as a studio band for artists including The Seekers, Pam & Ade, Frankie Davidson,The Thin Men, Margie Mills, Adrian Usher, Bobby Shaw, Ian MacAusland, Terry Dean and Johnny Chester.
Like many other bands that emerged in the brief inter-regnum between Elvis and The Beatles, they were profoundly influenced by the new wave of British guitar acts like The Shadows and The Tornados, and their set-list in earlier days was dominated by Cliff Richards/Shadows covers, although Laurie Arthur wrote and arranged a number of original instrumental pieces including "Leavin' Town", "Torlido", "The Outcast" and "Undertow", and some of these were alter covered by instrumental groups from Brazil, The Philippines, Holland, Belgium and Italy.
Their first single, "Cry of the Wild Geese" was a notable success, reaching #12 in Melbourne. This was followed by three more instrumental Singles during 1963, one of which reached the lower end of the Melbourne Top 40. Their first vocal single, a cover of the perennial "Poppa Oom Mow Mow" came out in early 1964.
The group's first big break came in January 1964 when they were booked as the support act on the Surfside '64 tour with Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, The Surfaris and Paul & Paula. Laurie Arthur left the group around this time ( he went on to join The Mixtures) and he was replaced by a ferociously talented 18-year-old guitarist-singer called John Farrar.
As well as being a gifted guitarist, John was an excellent singer with a wide vocal range, and his arrival enabled to the band to cover material such as The Beach Boys covers, which few other local groups could convincingly tackle. Indeed, the Strangers became extremely adept at creating note-perfect renditions of the latest hits by The Beatles, The Beach Boys and many other overseas acts.
By late 1964 The Strangers' career had really taken off. Aside from their own recordings, they were moer and more in demand as session musicians, doing countless backings for top artists, along with commercials, jingles and, of course, personal appearances at venues such as Opus and The Swinger. To handle the punishing workload and bookings, the group started their own Entertainment Agency managed by old friend Ron Fletcher, and they also formed a private company, Magnum Productions Pty. Ltd. (under the wing of Elmo Moss & Assoc.) to handle their business affairs. The group were voted top instrumental/vocal group of 1964. In 1965, it was reputed that The Strangers had only 15 days off in the whole year and in March 1966, manager Brian de Courcy claimed that they had worked "twenty-nine hours a day, fourteen days a week, four hundred and seventy two days last year".
Their biggest break was in August 1964, when The Strangers were selected as the 'house' band for the new 'Australian pop Tv show, The Go!! Show, broadcast nationally on the new 0-10 Network. The Strangers backed the numerous solo singers who performed on the program, as well as featuring on their own. It was on the set of The Go!! Show that John Farrar first met singer Pat Carroll, who became a Go!! Show regular. They subsequently became an "item" and eventually married in 1969, and remain together to this day.
During their tenure on The Go!! Show The Strangers signed a pioneering sponsogsubip deal with Maton Guitars, the famed Melbourne luthiers. Maton supplied the band with a complete set of their distinctive "El Toro" line of electric guitars and basses, which took their name form the exaggerated 'horns' sprouting from the body of the guitar.
Between 1964 and 1967 The Strangers recorded eight Singles, one EP and one LP under their own name for W&G, plus another LP, recorded in 1963, which was never released. In addition to their own output, they recorded scores if not hundreds of other tracks as a backing group for other artists, as well the many numbers they taped as backing tracks for The Go!! Show . Although they did not break out to major national success as recording artists, they had a high national profile due to their many TV appearances and they remained consistently popular in Melbourne, scoring several Top 40 Singles in 1964-65.
When not appearing live or on TV, The Strangers were almost constantly in the studio, and they virtually lived at Bill Armstrong's new studio after it opened in late 1964. As well as recording their own Singles, they worked as the main in-house backing group for W&G's stable of solo acts, as well as freelance work backing solo singers signed to other labels. Acts that The Strangers backed (either individually or collectively) during the mid-Sixties include Yvonne Barrett, Grantley Dee, Merv Benton, Pat Carroll, Russell Morris, Johnny Young, Little Gulliver, Peter Doyle, Billy Adams, Terry Dean, The Field Twins, Buddy England, Ronnie Burns, Johnny Farnham, Lynne Randell, Barry Crocker, The Town Criers, Hans Poulson and Colin Cook.
After their W&G contract expired they briefly signed to the Go!! label in 1967 and their only Go!! single, "Western Union" / "Cool Jerk", returned them to the Melbourne charts, reaching #30. Around this time vocalist Terry Walker (ex Glen Ingram & The Hi_five) replaced Fred Weiland, who left to join The Mixtures. Early in 1968, Walker "moonlighted" on the Pastoral Symphony single "Love Machine" / "Spread a Little Love", which was backed by an all-star session group that included most of The Twilights, and it was a major success, reaching #10 nationally in June 1968.
By this time however The Go!! Show had been cancelled and the Go!! label had folded soon after, so The Strangers moved on to the Philips label, for whom they recorded three Singles. The first, "Happy Without You", was quite successful -- it reached #39 nationally in May 1968, but went as high as #8 in Melbourne and #11 in Brisbane. There is a great article about this single on the poparchives website, which includes a video (sourced from YouTube) of The Strangers performing the song on UpTight in 1968. The next two Singles were "Lady Scorpio" (#36, June 1969) and "Sweet September" (Jan. 1970), as well as their second LP The Strangers.
In 1970 they signed to Ron Tudor's new Fable label. Ron was well known to the group, of course -- he had the A&R manager and house producer at W&G in the early 1960s, and was renowned as the man who discovered and signed The Seekers to their first recording contract.
The Strangers' biggest commercial success came with their 1970 single "Melanie Makes Me Smile", which peaked at #10 and spent eighteen weeks in the national chart. The Singles B-side, "If You Think You're Groovy" was one of several "gift" songs written by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane for vocalist PP Arnold.
The Strangers had supported their heroes The Shadows during one of their late-60s tours of Australia, and it was here that Farrar's guitar and vocal abilities caught the eye of Shadows rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch. He watched them from the wings while they played their set, which included John's famous trick of using a soft-drink bottle to play slide.
In mid-1970 The Strangers effectively broke up for a short time. Farrar had by then been invited to come to the UK and join a new trio Marvin, Welch & Farrar. He spent teh next five years working with Hank and Bruce in MW&F and the reformed Shadows, as well as work with Cliff Richard. This in turn brought him back into contact with Pat's former singing partner Olivia Newton-John, who was at the time engaged to Bruce Welch. John eventually took over as Olivia's producer and together they enjoyed massive international success, especialyl after they relocated to the USA, culminating in the massive worldwide success of the movie version of Grease, for which John wrote two additional songs that turned out to be the biggest hits of the film.
Meanwhile, some months after the initial split, Robinson and Thompson put together The New Strangers with guitarists John Cosgrove (ex-Fendermen) and Bill Pyman. They recorded three more Singles for Fable, but none made it into the charts. In March 1973 Jim Sifonious (ex-Dove) replaced Cosgrove and the band moved on to the Astor label, for whom they recorded two more unsuccessful Singles before finally splitting in 1975.
"The Cry Of The Wild Goose" / "Leavin' Town" (W&G S 1553) #12 (Melb.)
"The Outcast" / "Torlido" (W&G S 1595) #34 (Melb.)
"It Only Happens When I Dream" / "My Heart Belongs To You" (W&G S 1672)
"Undertow" / "Along The Navajo Trail" (W&G S 1761)
"Poppa Oom Mow Mow" / "Sunday Kind Of Love" (W&G S 2308)
"If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody" / "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (W&G S 2410) #29 (Melb.)
"Never On A Sunday" / "In My Room" (W&G S 2443)
"Put Yourself In My Place" / "Fever" (W&G S 2679)
"Western Union" / "Cool Jerk" (Go!! GO-5052) #30 (Melb.)
"Happy Without You" / "Take The Time" (Philips BF 412)
"Lady Scorpio" / "California Soul" (Philips BF 438)
"Sweet September" / "Paper Cup" (Philips BF 467)
"Melanie Makes Me Smile" / "If You Think You're Groovy" (Fable FB 011)
"Mr. President" / "Looking Through The Eyes Of A Beautiful Girl" (Fable FB 037)
"Sweet Water" / "Wishing My Life Away" (Fable FB 061)
"Tennessee" / "That Sunshine Feeling" (Fable FB 134)
"I Don't Mind" / (Columbia)
"Hitch Hike" / "Home Ain't Home Anymore" (Astor AP 7241)
"Kentucky Poor Boy" / "Sweet Song Of The Country" (Astor AP 7521)
The Strangers (W&G B-1654) unreleased
with Colin Cook:
Colin Cook and The Strangers (W&G WG 241850)
The Strangers (Philips PDS 322)
Best of The Strangers (Fable FBAB 5312) LP
Best of The Strangers (Canetoad) 1997
References / Links
"John Farrar and Pat Carroll webpage
Jeff Jermy with Peter Robinson
The Strangers 1961-1975
Downloadable Word document, available at:
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock (Outback Press, 1978)
Spencer, Chris & Zbig Nowara & Paul
Who's Who Of Australian Rock (Five Mile Press, 2002)