|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975
ISLE (MULWALA) FESTIVAL
Albury NSW, April 1972
The Rock Isle Mulwala Festival was held over the Easter long weekend from 31 March to 2 April 1972. The event is almost forgotten today. The exact site of the festival is not yet known, but it was held on the northern side of the river, presumably some distance out of town.
Mulwala (NSW) and Yarrawonga (Vic.) are
located on either side of the Murray River on the NSW-Victorian border,
about 260km north-west of Melbourne. Mulwala is west of Albury, about
halfway between Corowa and Cobram, on the NSW side of the river. Known
as "Victoria's Playground" the Yarrawonga-Mulwala area was first
in the 1840s and is now a popular tourist destination thanks to its
proximity to the Murray and Lake Mulwala, which was created in 1939.
Richard Miles has very kindly provided us with a transcription of the festival programme published Daily Planet on 5 April 1972:
|MULWALA OFFICIAL PROGRAMME (printed in )
10.00 - 10.30 Fat Mumma
11.05 - 11.55 Ida May Mack
12.10 - 1.00 Lobby Loyde & the Coloured Balls
1.15 - 2.05 Pirana
2.20 - 3.10 Highway
3.25 - 4.15 Co. Caine
4.30 - 5.20 Country Radio
5.35 - 6.25 Chain
7.45 - 8.35 Carson
7.45 - 8.35 Friends
8.50 - 9.40 Tamam Shud
9.55 - 10.45 SCRA
11.15 - 12.30 Canned Heat
11.30 - 12.10 Ida May Mack
12.20 - 1.00 Co Caine
1.10 - 1.50 Raman Shud
2.00 - 2.40 Country Radio
2.50 - 3.30 Frieze
3.40 - 4.20 Russell Morris
4.30 - 5.10 Carson
5.20 - 6.00 SCRA
7.00 - 7.40 Friends
7.50 - 8.30 Chain
8.40 - 9.20 La De Das
9.30 - 10.30 Aztecs
10.50 - 12.00 Canned Heat
12.15 - 1.30 Stephen Stills & Manassas
10.00 - 10.40 Fat Mumma
11.05 - 11.45 Ida May Mack
12.00 - 12.40 SCRA
12.55 - 1.35 Pirana
1.50 - 2.30 La De Das
2.45 - 3.20 Friends
3.35 - 4.15 Co Caine
4.30 - 5.10 Chain
5.25 - 6.05 Highway
6.20 - 7.00 Country Radio
7.15 - 7.55 Raman Shud
8.10 - 8.50 Carson
9.05 - 10.05 Aztecs
10.25 - 11.40 Canned Heat
12.00 - 1.15 Steve Stills
Although the organisers boasted that it would be "bigger than Woodstock", Mulwala was a flop. As a result, it has long been overshadowed by the huge success of the first Sunbury festival, held a couple of months earlier. In spite of a great roster of local bands and two leading overseas acts, Canned Heat and Steven Stills & Manassas, Mulwala was by all accounts a rather dismal experience -- rain turned the festival site into a quagmire, the third day was totally washed out and had to be cancelled, and it was marred throughout by alcohol, violence and general bad vibes, including sound problems. The poor attendance , combined with the high cost of the imported acts, sent the organisers broke.
Despite the negative aspects, there were apparently a some bright moments, with local acts Friends, Country Radio and Russell Morris all giving strong and well-received performances. In a rather unfortunate bit of scheduling, Carson were slotted in right before Canned Heat, and Melbourne's kings of boogie reportedly blew their American confreres off the stage.
The festival's failure was a combination of overly high expectations, poor planning and simple bad luck. By placing it at Mulwala, roughly equidistant from Sydney and Melbourne, the organisers hoped to draw a large crowd from both cities, but it was poorly advertised and so didn't attract the numbers required to break even. The low turn-out, combined with the enormous cost of the two overseas acts ($35,000 apiece) sent the organisers broke -- presaging what happened to Odyssey Promotions three years later with the final disastrous Sunbury festival in 1975. The final nail in the coffin was the timing -- staging it just two months after Sunbury was not a great idea to begin with, and the choice of the Easter break was also a bad idea, since south-eastern Australia is notorious for bad weather at that time of year; true to form, Mulwala copped a classic Easter weekend downpour.
Very little information about Mulwala is extant on the web, although happily some long-lost live footage from GTK of Stephen Stills & Manassas at Mulwala has recently been posted on YouTube, and it features some scorching palying by steel guitarist Al Perkins.
This page, sourced in part from discussions thread on the Rock'n'Roll Scars mailing list, represents just about all the available information about Mulwala and is probably the largest amount of coverage this festival has ever had since it was staged. Mulwala gets one short and unpromising mention in the "Festivals" section of Ian McFarlane's Encyclopedia:
"In April 1972, Mulwala, held on the banks of the Murray River inland from Albury, was a disaster. Canned Heat and Stephen Stills' Manassas took the money and ran. The local bands hardly got a look in."
McFarlane's reference (and other accounts) suggest that, like Sunbury '75, there was friction between the overseas and local acts and that, as with Deep Purple at Sunbury, the international visitors received the lion's share of the takings, the promoters went bust and most of the local bands got nothing. Steven Stills gave an interview to Go-Set on 28 October 1972 which touched on his performance at Mulwala, mentioning that he was not happy about the event, describing it as 'mud and complete chaos'; by his account the band couldn't do a sound check, so their sound wasn't too good and consequently they didnt do a good show. He described it as a 'joke' and commented that Australia was like America twenty years before."
The late Adrian Rawlins was a familiar presence at many early festivals. He touches on Mulwala in his book on Australian music festivals:
"Inspired by this very obvious
success [Sunbury], a group of rival
television people quickly organised another festival for the end of
1972. This was the Mulwala Festival, held on the banks of Murray,
inland from Albury. The idea was that a site midway between the two
major capitals would attract a vast audience. It didn't!"
"This festival boasted two international acts, "Canned Heat" and Steven Stills "Manassas", which included Chris Hilman, who had appeared in the Hilman Bros Band,The Flying Burrito Brothers and the revamped The Byrds. Both bands played well but as they but as they had not been advertised as headliners, so they didn't pull any extra people. Each band cost $35,000 and two months after the festival, the organizing company went down for $70,000."
"Musically speaking, Leo De Castro and Friends featuring Rod MacKenzie, turned in a better performance than Canned Heat."
Notwithstanding the many problems, Mulwala was an important appearance for Russell Morris, who at the time was trying to break away from his teen idol image and establish himself as a serious singer-songwriter. He was on the road promoting his make-or-break solo album Bloodstone, and f*or this tour Russell was backed by Melbourne group Cycle, which included some noted Melbourne players like drummer Geoff Cox (Bootleg Family Band) and future LRB lead guitarist David Briggs. Russell was showcasing the new songs from Bloodstone on a national tour but he was finding it hard to gain acceptance and break away from his earlier pop image. Despite some negative responses at other gigs during the tour, Russell reportedly got a warm reception from the Mulwala crowd, performing his new repertoire interspersed with a selection of earlier hits.
According to Richard Miles the only major coverage of the event, other than sensational reports from the daily newspapers, was in editions of Daily Planet of 5/4/72, 12/4/72 and and Go Set of 22/4/72 and Terry Stacey noted the interview in Go-Set of 28/10/1972.
The Rock'n'roll Scars mailing list generated discussion of Mulwala from several members who had attended, some of which is lsisted below. It was sparked by a post from David Bromage, who reported news that a group of twenty-eight professional quality photographs of the festival had been donated to the National Library of Australia from a deceased estate. The call number of the items is PIC P2193/1-28 LOC drawers B30-B31.Apart from two brief references in MILESAGO about the appearances of Tamam Shud and Russell Morris, a reference on Dave Graney's site, and the entry in McFarlane's Encyclopedia, the only other major web reference located at the time of writing was a Charles Sturt University listing of the police record of occurrences, held in the NSW State Archives:
Pop Festival Site
1. Record of occurrences, 31 Mar - 3 Apr 1972 (SA1655/32/126.3). 1 bundle. RESTRICTED. These occurrences were recorded at Police Position No. 1, a temporary police location at the Rock Isle Mulwala, Easter 1972 Festival Site.
The article below (kindly provided by Terry Stacey) was originally published in Daily Planet on 19 April 1972, a couple of weeks after the festival. Correspondent 'Dean Moriarty' touches on the problems of the festival, then interviews Tamam Shud's Lindsay Bjerre and Bruce ? of Highway.
Daily Planet Article
19 April 1972
Click here to see a full-size scan of the original article
DEANO AT MULWALA TALKS TO LINDSAY AND BRUCE
by Dean Moriarty
By now Mulwala will have been dissected, discussed and, I should imagine, generally put down. It wasn't a good festival.The promoters once again had little respect for artists and audience. Jim Keays, hired to compere the show, spent a night with his wife on the ground in the rain. There were other nuisances like no signs on the showers and thusly the ladies having to put up with gentlemen showering next to them. But festivals will be festivals."
Two bands that are trying to inject originality into the Australian scene are Tamam Shud and Highway. Tamam Shud have received over the years an affinity with surfing unequalled by any other band save The Beach Boys. An unfortunate marriage because these days the Shud have developed from being just another band into one of the finest and most musically refreshing bands we have. Richard Lockwood's confident and masterful saxophone/clarinet/flute playing coupled with Tim Gaze's enthusiastic and talented guitar work have given the group an extra dimension in originality.
I had a talk with Lindsay Bjerre, singer, guitarist and songwriter in their tent at Mulwala.
What do you think of Mulwala?
It's getting better because I'm getting further away from it. I'm a couple of hundred yards down the river which is pretty cool. It's good to visit but but you wouldn't want to stay here, you know. I mean if you came at night and watched a few groups it would be good but I couldn't handle grovelling in the dirt like a lot are doing. I can't stand feeling dirty for too long.
Do you think the festival's being by young people or old-minded people?
About in-between. There's some stupid things like putting Carson on before Canned Heat. Two boogie bands. Carson really ripped it and then they sat in the audience and then there was that can-throwing thing and then Canned Heat had to turn around and play boogie music to warm them all back up again, which wasn't fair to them.
Do you think the Australian bands are being treated pretty bad here by the promoters?
I think accommodation could have been a bit better.
Do you think kids are being treated fairly? Out there?
Yeah. Oh they never are. They're real piggy conditions. It looks like Stalag 17 or something. you look out there and that big tower with the lights on looks like a machine-gun turret and the big wire fence with the prisoners behind it.
What about the barbed wire?
Barbed wire says "Well, we really don't want you to come over." Can you imagine if the crowd was running around near the stage with all that equipment?
Do you think there's a communal feeling between the people out there?
There must be. Let's face it. There's the drunks with tattoos, falling on their faces and yelling "Suck more piss!" There's a lot of them so they must feel as one. There's the people "paranoiding" around so in their many different ways they couldn't feel alone. I think the setting's good, though the river's pretty treacherous.
Do you think your band's jelled at all here?
The music coming out sounded good but they guys couldn't feel it. I think you get up there expecting to hear everybody but all you hear is yourself and a bit of the guy next to you so you freak out and don't get the "full on" thing like the people are getting and you get deflated and you can't put on your best. I felt alright but a couple of the guys got really uptight. They're pretty sensitive players.
Due to the fact that they're bringing out more overseas bands do you think it will benefit Australian acts?
Oh sure. For a start they haven't sounded greatly better than Australian groups. If they sounded incredible it would frighten us out but they haven't sounded incredible. John Mayall was good but he just jammed. I think Pink Floyd would have blown a lot of minds because nobody here is on that trip.
What is the difference between Australian and overseas acts?
There must be an audience an experience difference. Bands over there can go down the street and see so many styles of music.
Are you planning to go overseas?
Yes, but I'd dig to come down to Melbourne and get a little rehearsal band together. Just jamming. I think that's what all bands need. Have your proper group to play in and do the other thing on the side. Like the way jazz players have side bands. One day you might put it on stage as an extra thing. you get groups jamming and it's a whole mess but if you get a little group together, get some really good songs off and you're right. That's what I'd like to do before I go overseas. I'd like to get a big band together with a couple of drummers, trumpets, keyboards, etc. Things I've never worked with. A lot of things I write we don't play because the band's not large enough to play it. I could give it to SCRA because they have the instrumentation. I like SCRA but sometimes they get a bit "soully" and "hotelly". Tonight they were great.
What do you think of the drink scene at festivals?
I'd like to say that it would be good not to have any liquor at a festival but now and again I feel "Gee I'd like a beer" myself. It gets out of hand like it always does so I think the one or two should sacrifice and not have the drink in. Maybe it would be a smaller festival but it would be better but then again the promoters wouldn't like that because it's less money.
What does Tamam Shud mean?
"The End" in Persian
Who picked the name?
A Dutch guy found it in the end of 'The Rubaiyat' by Omar Khayyam. He was flicking through the book and I was picking out names. I put the book down and he opened it up again at the back page and there was written Tamam Shud which meant The End and I thought gee that was too much because it really didn't mean anything. I dig it when people call us the Shud because of the simplicity of it. It sounds more personal.
How's Richard fitting in?
Really well. He's such a happy, easy person on stage. He's always a good vibe because you look across stage and he's always smiling and it gives you that extra sting you know, it makes you play much better.
Highway, since coming over from New Zealand, have managed to have a slowly growing legion of admirers. A happy, easy-going band they drift through life seemingly unworried about the pitfalls of success. Their country-oriented music lacks heaviness which is the current trend but I feel personally that their musical excellence will win out and that towards the end of this year they will become a major "individual" force in rock.
Bruce, their singer, has a slow drawl and a relaxed personality that embodies their happy approach to music.
I want to ask you some questions.
What do you wan to ask me some questions for? Don't make it too complicated cos I couldn't handle it.
You were a really big band in New Zealand. What did you expect here?
I didn't really expect anything. I just came over to improve.
Do you think you've had a fair shake since you've been here?
Aw, yeah, well, I think so. Overall, considering what we've done, because we changed the drummer and that always sets you back a bit.
Is Eric fitting in?
Oh yeah! He's great.
What happened to your single?
Well it hasn't been released yet. I haven't heard about a release date yet from Sparmac, which is a bit of a hang-up.
Your music is much lighter and happier than most bands. Do you think that holds you back a bit?
Yeah, well, really that's not the current thing, is it? Not here anyway.
Who writes all your stuff?
It's usually an idea from Phil. Like he'll come along with a pattern or something like that, you know. Then George will add an idea for arranging because he's done a lot of arranging. He's studied it a fair bit. Then I'll stick a vocal line on it, you know. Write some words on whatever mood the song's in.
What's the band looking for this year?
Well we need a bit more money so we don't have to worry about it and concentrate on the playing side of things.
Are you starting to get a lot of work?
Yeah we're getting more than before.
What's it like living in Australia compared to New Zealand in regard to band life?
Yeah, well the other two guys have been over here before. Phil was over here for a year with The Retaliation that later turned into Strawpatch. George also played bass in Freshwater. It's not that much different really.
What bands influenced you in your music?
Well a lot of country guys influenced the guitarists like Robbie Robertson, James Burton and so on and that flows over into our style of music.
What do you try to generate when you're playing?
A sort of really relaxed thing that has a lot of continuity. Just to give the audience a good feeling.
(Article courtesy of Terry Stacey)
Tim Gaze (Tamam Shud):
memories on Rock Isle
Mulwala -- crikey -- I went
to that festival in the back of a Transit van that belonged to the band
Highway from NZ. Steve Stills and Manassas came out here to do the
festival -- they were rumoured to have had a chilly reception at
Melbourne airport -- searched etc. I also heard that Charlie Tumahai
said 'gedday' to Stills, only to
be spat upon, but don't take this as gospel -- the Manassas boys were a
little pissed off apparently -- played good though. Who
knows what really
went on? Lots of
chemically-affected shit going on in '72. Thorpie brained 'em to the
famous cry of 'Suck More Piss'. I got really ill after eating three
jam-filled donuts -- hideously sick, and that's about it really. I
think it was good to get back to Melbourne and forgedaboudit."
Greg Quill (Country Radio):
remember bits and
pieces of the event, but not
its name 'til now. Stills and Canned Heat were given star treatment,
and didn't fraternize with the local talent. They came and went. I was
impressed by Manassas -- very organized guitar band with great
percussion, a touch of African rhythm, and excellent harmonies. Very
big band, I remember. And Stills appeared cranky, detached all the time
on stage. Maybe scared. It was probably the most primitive audience
he'd ever seen."
"Canned Heat seemed so lightweight compared to Australian blues bands like Chain and Carson, though they mustered up a very decent, very authentic kind of shuffle. Falsetto vocals, flute and a wispy little harmonica -- seemed a bit kitsch to me. That was the weekend I remember feeling -- under the influence of a great deal of dope -- the full impact of Carson. They could turn a one-chord groove into a stampede."
"I vaguely remember an aggressive, pissed (pissed off?) crowd, and not a large one at all. I think everyone was down because it was clear from the start that Mulwala was a wash-out, that we probably wouldn't get paid, that no-one was going to enjoy it. I don't know who the promoter was. It was a bad vibe. Maybe that's why I can't remember much about it."
"[Daily] Planet had a fair amount of stuff about Mulwala both before and after the event, I'm pretty sure they had a list of who was on, they definitely had reviews of the festival (I'll dig them out and have a look). Canned Heat were there, I think Billy Thorpe was as well, Gerry Humphrys was one of the comperes (he invented his Ongo Bongo chant there) as was Jim Keays I think. Go-Set had a one page review of it too. The third (last) day of it was washed out!"
"I was there. Pretty sure it was 1972. It was an ugly show. Alcohol and fights. It was the last of the "peace" "love" 3-day concert in Australia. Woodstock was now a dream. I went to Sunbury 1, 2 and 3. Sunbury No.3 was even getting heavy. "I went to the Myponga festival late 71 or early 72 and saw the Australian debut of Black Sabbath along with the fantastic Jeff Crozier and his Magic Show. I would rate that festival as one of the best in Oz."
"I think Steven Stills was there as well. Yep. I saw him snorting coke in the caravan at the back of the stage. I agree it was mostly bloody ugly and a musical disappointment."
G., Sat, 18 May 2002:
"I went to the Myponga festival late 71 or early 72 and saw the Australian debut of Black Sabbath along with the fantastic Jeff Crozier and his Magic Show. I would rate that festival as one of the best in Oz. Does anyone have any info on Myponga festival?"
"I have read conflicting reports about whether Cat Stevens was there. Some sources say he was, others say he cancelled. I had a few direct emails which didn't go to the group. So far I have recollections of Steven Stills, Canned Heat, Slade, Coloured Balls,Manassas, La De Das, Tamam Shud, Country Radio, Chain, Frieze, Burke & Wills, Carson, Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Russell Morris & Cycle, and Doug Parkinson being there. It's a shame that Sunbury cast a shadow over its predecessors. You don't see nearly as much written about Ourimbah, Odyssey, Myponga or Fairlight."
Stevens never made
it. He was cancelled. Thank
you Tim for
agreeing. Mulwala brought the axe
down on love and peace. I
remember at the
Mulwala concert seeing a bunch of
bikies laying into one man. Actually he looked more like a teenager. He
had long hair and was wearing the usual hippie clothing. To me that
symbolised the death of the hippie era.
Tony Mahony from The Dave
Graney Show website:
The first live show you saw?
"I was 13 and got into the Rock Isle (Mulwala) pop festival, under the fence. The act on stage was Greg Quill and Country Radio. They had cowboy hats and I was impressed ... everyone else was pissed out of their heads."
References / Links
Thanks to David Bromage, Geoff Green, Richard Miles and Tim O'Leary for contributing to the discussion, Terry Stacey for his invaluable help with sources and Tim Gaze and Greg Quill for their personal recollections.
- Stephen Stills
5 April 1972 and 12 April 1972
"Deano at Mulwala talks to Lindsay and Bruce"
Daily Planet, 19 April 1972
Click here to see a scan of the original article
22 April 1972
email to Milesago, 21 May 2002
Show - Tony Mahony
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock & Pop
Groups of the 60s and 70s - Highway
Festivals in Australia: An Intimate History (D.T.E Publishers, Spring Hill, Vic, 1986)
Concise Guide to State Archives from the Riverina and Murray Regions
YouTube - Stephen Stills & Manassas live at Mulwala