The MILESAGO Interviews

Tony Worsley

Tony Worsley (TW) former lead singer of Tony Worsley & The Fabulous Blue Jays, reminisces with David Kilby (DK), on ABC Radio 2CN-666, "Sundays" program, 31/8/99. We pick up this thoroughly delightful interview (I only wish I could adequately convey here in text, the happy, laughter-spiced mood of the chat) as they discuss Tonyís passage across from UK to Australia with his family in the late fifties...

DK: How old were you (when you came out to Australia)?

TW: Fifteen! I was 15 on Christmas day as we crossed the equator and I got tarred and feathered by King Neptune! [laughs]

DK: [laughing]

TW: Iíll never forget it!

DK: And came out with your parents, I presume?

TW: Yeah, four sisters, another brother, my mum & dad, and luckily we didnít have to go to a hostel, we kinda were sponsored by my Auntie in Brisbane and we lived at her place for a while. So it was good, down at Wooloongabba, around there.

DK: So how did you get into music? Did you come, yíknow, equipped with music, had you started a music career in England?

TW: Yeah that's right. I used to sing all the time. At school, my reports were always "daydreaming"! I was always daydreaming, you know, I was always dreaming of being a movie-star or a singer...I didnít like reading so I didnít become a movie star [laughs]. But I sang when I was fourteen in London in a talent quest and I won it, I won a contract with Decca records, and, er...
DK: Did you?

TW: Yeah! Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan were the judges and, er, but my dad said "you're migrating and that's it!", y'know?

DK: So it was at that crucial time, when youíre heading out, that you won that?

TW: Yeah so I mean, I didnít get on with my parents too much on the ship for the first few weeks!

DK: I bet you didn't! What did you sing for the contest?

TW: Um, Whadda You Wanna Make Those Eyes At Me For? [sings a bit of it]

DK: Good heavens, the old Emile Ford!

TW: Yeah, and a handful of songs by Tommy Steele

DK: Oh yes, well that was good, to pick a Tommy Steele song when he was the judge

TW: I know, it's scary, but when youíre fifteen, you donít think like that! [laughs]. You like a song and you sing it! [lots of laughter]

DK: So Tony, when you got out here, what sorts of things did you do before you got in the music business proper?

TW: I was a rigger, but not in the sense riggers are today. We used to splice wire ropes and do all the splicing, and doing all the big, y'know, the dry docks that used to pump the water out. We used to go down to splice the ropes for the big pumps; and my dad was doing that so, I was 15, I had to go to work to support the other kids and the family, yíknow? It was good, it was good, I got along, I often spliced rope for the people down the wharf when I took the boat in [laughs]. That came in handy!

DK: But still always dreamed of a career still?

TW: Yeah, yup! Always, always, yeah.

DK: So how did you get into it?

TW: Er, I used to go down to all the dances, and chat to the bands and, "Oh no, not you again -- get lost!" you know? And one time, in the School Of Arts there, or the Police Club - I can't remember - and Lonnie Lee & the Leemen were there! And some people in the crowd were yelling out for "Little Sister", by Elvis, 'cos it was big hit at the time

DK: Yeah!

TW: And um, I knew the words, so I got up. And the next minute I was on there for an hour, and that all sorta started from there! And they called me "Brisbane's Beatle" and all that sort of stuff

DK: Why did they do that - because you had the haircut at the time?

TW: Yeah, I'd just come out from England and I was singing Beatles songs, ëcos I had tapes from England and stuff like that, from Liverpool. And Iíd just get up and sing these songs, they hadn't heard ëem before... I grew my hair long - got bashed up a few times

DK: Did you? Yes, all part of the procedure back then

TW: Youíre not wrong! [laughs]

DK: Now, in fact I think the original group who did this, Tony, were the Mighty Avengers?

TW: Which one was that?

DK: This is the song called So Much In Love

TW: Yeah, So Much In Love With You, yeah

DK: Which has definitely got a very British sound, hasnít it?

TW: Well we were sorta more influenced by the Mersey sound, more so than the American. The American was kinda like the fifties guys, you know, like Little Richard and Chuck Berry and stuff like that, and if we did a Chuck Berry song it was probably 'cos The Beatles did it, you know?

DK: Yeah well we started off with Talkin' 'Bout You which was the Chuck Berry song, wasn't it?

TW: Yeah

DK: But done by British groups

TW: Yeah, I think the Searchers did a version of that too

DK: Yeah, it was one of those songs that everyone seemed to tackle at the time, wasnít it?

TW: Yeah but it's funny, I didn't even realise that, I just heard it and I liked it. So I wasnít too much in tune with what was happening anywhere else. Most of the stuff - I liked it and we did it, but I had no power over the songs that were released, yíknow

DK: Well, weíre about to hear a little but of So Much In Love - a song you donít hear too much these days, it was a big hit for the Mighty Avengers and a great version from my special guest on "Sundays", Tony Worsley (and the Blue Jays)

"So Much In Love" plays

DK: Was that song, Tony, written by Jagger & Richard?

TW: Yeah, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, thatís right. I was just listening to that, and I remember we recorded that in Adelaide, I think one night on tour they said "come in and record a few songs" - we did it at 5AD studios. And Terry Britten played the 12-string Rickenbacker

DK: Did he really?!

TW: Yeah, that nice sound. Like a telegraph pole, you know "dow dow dow dow dow"

DK: Why is it that everyone on the show this morning is imitating... we were just talking to Jim McLeod the jazz-man; he was imitating drummers

TW: Was he? [laughs]

DK: Yeah, you're not bad on guitar either, I gotta tell you too, Tony. Now listen, you're from Brisbane, how did you team up with the Blue Jays who were a great band, and weren't they from Melbourne?

TW: Thatís right, they were. They were a combo that had records of their own out at the time, and ëcos I had long hair I guess... [clears throat] ...'scuse me, bit croaky after last night! Er, Ivan Dayman who had the bowl circuit starting up all over Australia - one in Melbourne, one in Sydney and so on - he said to me "How would you like to go to Melbourne for 32 pound a week?" And I went "Wow! That sounds good". I was gettin' 4 pound a week as an apprentice [laughs]. 32 pound, gor, gee! I donít remember getting paid but I had a good time! [laughs]. And we joined up and our first gig was at a sharpie dance. I never knew what a sharpie was!

DK: A sharpie dance - this is great!

TW: Yeah, they're all golden gloves and ex-fighters and stuff. It was at Canterbury Ballroom in Melbourne, and it killed ëem, went really well. You know, doin' the Hippy Hippy Shake and shakiní me hair. Theyíd never seen anything like it I guess, and it took off from there

DK: Right, and there were a few sort of, er, members came and went in that too. I mean, Mal Clarke was in it wasnít he?

TW: Yeah, Mal stayed to the end, and so did Royce [Nicholls]. Bobby Johnson and Ray Eames left... they were married and when Beatlemania spread to Australia, of course weíd be gettiní publicity with girls in your rooms and all that - their wives called ëem home so they left the band [laughs]. And so the single guys were left.

DK: [laughs] And was it right that John Farrar was with them for a while?

TW: John Farrar? No

DK: He wasn't?

TW: He might have been with the boys...

DK: Before you came upon them?

TW: Yeah, but I remember John as in the Strangers

DK: Yes, of course

TW: Heís going really well you know

DK: Oh he certainly is

TW: I was speaking to Pat Carroll two weeks ago; we were down for Peter Doyleís 50th birthday and the poor man's got throat cancer - he's got like a hole in his throat and talks real raspy, but he was a wonderful singer too... and Pat was saying that [Johnís] doing a remake of "Gidget" and he's writing all the songs for it

DK: "Gidget" as a musical, or a movie?

TW: Well, like "Grease", but itís gonna be "Gidget". So thatís coming in the pipeline. Heís writing and recording all the songs for it at the moment, so thereís a scoop for ya!

DK: Good, I like it! And that's proving very popular, that style of thing with, er, Happy Days and Grease

TW: I think it's because people who were there in the sixties, they're grown up, their kids have grown up, their mortgage is paid for and they wanna go out to what they gave up, not to what they donít know... And thatís the way I run the restaurant, like we kinda sell memories. You know, their memories and my memories...

DK: Pretty much coincide

TW: Yeah, and I think to be a teenager at the latter part of your life is great! [much mutual laughter]... 55 with a smile on our face!!!

DK: Hey youíre a good person to have on on Sunday morning here Tony! I like this! Now, the hit that set you up, I suppose, that rocketed you to almost instant stardom, was a vocal version of an instrumental song by the Megatrons. How did Velvet Waters come about?

TW: Well, we were going to leave the studios in Sydney, at Festival at Pyrmont and weíd just recorded an album, and oh, about 20 songs and we thought, "Oh, we're gonna go home now". And Jimmy Cerezo, the guitarist said "What about this?" And we did it in about ten minutes and of course the rest is history. You could spend, like, days on a song - now they tend to spend years - but in those days we spent days on a song and it went nowhere, and youíd do something in ten minutes and it just catches the public ear, yíknow? It just took off; we were really thrilled about that!

DK: Well, not only that, I mean you had a competing vocal version with Bruce Gillespie too, didn't you?

TW: Yeah, that was a decade beforehand, and when it was number one in Perth or somewhere, Bruce rang me and said "I like your version", so I felt quite good ëcos I was only a kid and he was an experienced singer, so... very nice man

DK: That's nice, isn't it?

TW: Oh it's great

DK: We might hear a bit of that. This is Tony Worsley, our special guest here this morning on "Sundays on 2CN", and his big hit version, Top 5 it was, in many places in Australia, and top tune, called Velvet Waters

Velvet Waters plays

DK: And of course, Tony, that's the name of your restaurant now, isn't it?

TW: Thatís right, I thought I would do that because Queensland was my best state I guess (not knocking the others of course), but there was always that "state of origin" feel in those days - like, Sydney wouldnít play Brisbane [records], and Brisbane wouldnít play Melbourne and I thought, well, coming home and calling it "Velvet Waters" and itís sorta worked for me, so... it was a good move, I didn't think I had that much brains! [laughs]... weíve had a lotta fun!

DK: [cracking up] Now, just tell me Tony, was that, I mean it was written by William Plunkett for The Megatrons, but I notice on the credits that Dodd is the other writer. Now, is that Dorothy Dodd, was that an Australian writer who did the lyrics?

TW: Yeah, and she was the president of APRA [Australian Performing Rights Association] for a long time - she just retired in the last five years, I rang and spoke to the lady. But, she wrote Granada!

DK: Thatís right!

TW: A real big hit, and she said it was no good anyway 'cos the Americans ripped her off and all that sorta stuff. In the sixties, yíknow, no-one knew much about royalties and copyrights and stuff... but yeah, she wrote some great songs

DK: So she's still alive then?

TW: She's still alive, yeah. I had to ask - I wanted to use the song in a commercial for the restaurant and I had to, er, hire it off her!

DK: Well, youd have to do the right thing if she was [APRA's] president, wouldnít ya?

TW: Yeah! [laughs]

DK: What about tours? Did you appear on any big line-ups, when overseas artists visited?

TW: Yeah, I guess the highlight of our career - the Blue Jays - was with Manfred Mann, The Kinks and The Honeycombs and a guy called Tommy Quickly!

DK: Oh yeah, and the Remo Four!

TW: Yeah. And so, er, that was the first time weíd seen a girl drummer, like outta The Honeycombs; and it was a fantastic tour. Um, Manfred didn't like me too much - his band liked me - but Manfred, I remember one time in the aeroplane, he turned around and said "I don't need a suntan or long hair" [laughs]

DK: Really?

TW: Yeah! [laughing].... Well, in the early days, I got really mad at some of the bands because they'd come over here and treat us like we were still bringing out prisoners, you know what I mean?

DK: Pretty much the colonial feel were they?

TW: Yeah, that sorta thing, and they kinda rubbished disc jockeys a lot and had a bit of fun with everyone, yíknow, now they take it pretty seriously, but...

DK: What, you got the feeling they felt they were a bit superior?

TW: Yeah, a little bit like that, but we certainly showed them. I mean, itís like a boxing match. When youíre on stage, youíve gotta beat the guys who will follow ya! [laughs] You gotta do it good! Bring out all stops! Wreck the hall!!! [laughing uncontrollably]

DK: [also laughing uncontrollably] Well I reckon you woulda wrecked it with this one, Tony Worsley, this is your great version of "Sure Know A Lot About Love"

TW: [still chuckling] Thank you


Sure Know A Lot About Love plays


DK: Oh yes! Sure Know A Lot About Love - Tony Worsley & the Blue Jays; and Tony Worsley is my special guest this morning. Always had a great, thick sound, the Fabulous Blue Jays, didnít they?

TW: They were very, er, unusual. I thought they were probably one of the better bands around at the time, yíknow? When they played the harmonies or the unison with the sax and guitar it just gives it a weird sound and also a fatter sound. They were a very phat band!

DK: It was, yeah

TW: Very good musicians, I mean, Bobby Johnson, he could crush-roll on the drums with one hand, yíknow - they were very very clever musos, very very good

DK: How'd you wind up on the Sunshine label?

TW: Er, well that was Ivan Dayman's...

DK: He was your manager?

TW: Yeah, and he started, like, a little branch of Festival in Queensland, called Sunshine, which is probably, y'know...

DK: Makes sense

TW: Ha ha, not today it doesn't! It did back then before the ozone! [laughs]... and of course there was Marcie Jones & the Cookies, Normie Rowe, Peter Doyle, Robbie Snowden, Marty Rhone, a lotta people on that label

DK: But you did very well for it though, didn't you?

TW: Yeah, I had a good four or five years. It was really wonderful. Saw a lot of, certainly saw all of Australia and [other] parts of the world, and, ah, had a good time!!

DK: So did you travel overseas then?

TW: Yeah, I went to Germany for a little while, about three-weeks' tour, and, er, that was in the late sixties

DK: How'd you go over there?

TW: It went really well with the audiences but it didn't seem to take off. I dunno if Ivan stepped on anyone's toes, but nothing sorta came of it

DK: But you were hopeful?

TW: Yeah, always, I mean...

DK: The idea was to perhaps get across there and stay across there for a bit longer, and sell records I presume?

TW: Yeah, and I was also a bit scared on my own, y'know, I went to the States but I didn't wanna stay there, it's just scary on your own, y'know? Um, to move into a big thing and....

DK: Yeah... When did you try the States then?

TW: Oh that was about '70 or summat like that...I canít remember the years, I can remember the songs that were hits, hah! [laughing].... I can remember it was the same year Mac Davis had, er, "Baby Don't Get...

DK: ...Hooked On Me"! Oh, we're certainly talking seventies now then!

TW: [chuckling]

DK: Yeah. And so you came back home?

TW: Yeah. And then I did the club circuit, and, um, then I came up to Queensland, bought a yacht and lived on the Barrier Reef for a little while... got healthy... so yeah, but I've always done what I wanted to do. Iíve never - I don't regret anything, and ah, I'm still dreaming now! I'm gonna make it even if I'm 70!

DK: [laughs] Wouldn't surprise me! Look, I have to say too, that Festival have just put out a double-CD of Tony Worsley & the Blue Jays with, gee, between 50 and 60 tracks!... pretty much the entire output I would think?

TW: I think it is. I don't think there's anything lost in there somewhere that we couldn't remember doin'! [laughs]

DK: And the range is eclectic! From Louie Louie to, er, you mentioned Chan Romero 'cos you did Hippy Hippy Shake but on here you do Humpy Dumpy, that Iíve never heard Chan Romero doing, so er, and some left-field ones, like this for heavenís sake! I never thought Tony Worsley and his Blue Jays would have cut this track...

short snippet of Do You Mind? plays

DK: Yeah, Tony Newley wasn't it?

TW:Yeah, I admired that guy, I mean for a guy to do a one-man show on Broadway and last that long, I thought was just incredible talent

DK: And he only passed away a couple of months ago, didn't he?

TW: Did he? Oh, I never heard that

DK: Yes he did, he died of cancer, I think it was, only about a month ago I think, Tony. And Do You Mind, well, I think it was a number one hit for him

TW: Yeah, and plus being a Pom, I guess, yíknow, you have your little roots back there, y'know?

DK: And he recorded for Decca as well!

TW: Yeah, yeah

DK: It all adds up, doesn't it really?

TW: Oh it does, you don't kinda move far from home do ya?

DK: No, well you did and then you came back! Well, your second home in any case isnít it?

TW: For sure!

DK: Do you go back to [birthplace] Hastings?

TW: Well, my parents went back. I havenít been back there. But, you go back there, but all your friends when youíre like 14 or 15, theyíre all married, oneís in the army, oneís gone there, one there, so itís never exactly the same, when you go back

DK: No it isnít

TW: You remember how it is, also you think, oh geez, I didn't realise the place was so big! Cos you were little, y'know? Cos youíve grown a bit [laughing]. But I've seen all the castles; we used to go on school outings, I mean we used to go to France, Germany, Holland on school excursions for 15 pound, I mean 'cos we were so close to everything

DK: Of course!

TW: Yeah, like here, they don't realise. My uncle's coming over from England next year and he said "I wanna pop up to the Barrier Reef for a day"... I mean - a-ha-ha-ha-hah!!!

DK: Did you put him straight?

TW: Go out and drive back on the same day! They just don't realise how big Australia is.

DK: No, thatís true. Mind you, in England, the place is so close together, it takes you so long because there's so many interesting things to see on the way in England

TW: That's right, and you drive the distance, like from, say, Adelaide across to Perth across the Nullabor - you don't see too much but if you did that in England youíd see Scotland, Wales, the whole spectrum [laughs]

DK: Thatís right, precisely. Tony, have you got any other... when you say you still dream and that sorta thing, and youíll be making it when youíre 70, what other areas - have you got plans to record any more, or are you going into some other, er, live music?

TW: I just lined up with Jon Blanchfield who used to manage Mondo Rock, and heís an old - Iím not sure, I think he was on Sunshine...

DK: He was, wasnít he. He was just under "Jon", I think, for a while?

TW: J-O-N.

DK: J-O-N, yeah

TW: And so he's looking after me, and I just got hold of this CD that he wants to me to listen to which is Trini Lopez Live at PJ's!

DK: Oh heavens above, yes!

TW: It's like a big band sound and itís live and itís probably a little bit Ricky Martin-ish in the sense that itís from that same area. So I dunno what heís up to, but he wants me to have a listen to it, and all the songs are so diverse - 'cos I guess when you look at this album thereís so many ranges of different voices, different things

DK: Certainly is

TW: So, ah, and next year weíre gonna record again, so I'm really looking forward to that!

DK: Great! Now, when youíre singing at your restaurant there, what sort of backing do you use, what sorta songs and what backing?

TW: 'Cos itís a small restaurant, I go into the studios and use a band, then I put it onto MIDI, onto Mini-Disk, and I use the disk, and I do everything from, like Drifters, er, Julio Iglasias, er, whatever actually

DK: Really?

TW: Yeah, Stand By Me, My Girl, Dock Of The Bay, Velvet Waters, Missing You, Raining In My Heart, er, Mustang Sally, Midnight Hour, and all the rock & roll stuff!

DK: Thatís a huge range then, innit?

TW: Yeah last night we had an 18th birthday and I mean those guys weren't even born, you know, and, uh, uh, all these young girls, like, with navel rings and stuff dancing in front of me and [chuckles self-effacingly], and it must have looked like, uh, "I'm in heaven, Iím in heaven!!!"... you could say I'm having a flashback here, y'know?! [mutual laughter]... we have a lotta fun, we have a lot of fun!

DK: Ooh, Tony! Do you ever do Something's Got A Hold On Me?

TW: Ah, no, um, I can't get bands - itís like when I can't get bands to do Velvet Waters. Because of the Echolette, the tape echo, and the Fender guitar, you canít get that, yíknow, arpeggio sound, like the pizzicato kinda thing like the violins do... and so it comes out a bit heavier, you know what I mean?

DK: Doesnít work

TW: No, and I think you have to use the same equipment to get to get that sound unless you really know your equipment.... A lotta the other stuff is sorta synthesised sound, like, not a true guitar sound!

DK: Not like it was back in the days of the fabulous Blue Jays!

TW: Nup!

DK: What a pity... I think we might go out with that one though Tony; such a great song from Etta James

TW: David, I want to thank you very much mate [chuckles]

DK: Oh, it was a pleasure! Been good fun

TW: Mate, if you ever come up, please come in!

DK: I shall do that!

TW: Okay! Thank you all your listeners, thank you

DK: Alright, thanks Tony, cheers mate, bye bye... Tony Worsley from the Blue Jays...I hope you enjoyed that... and thatís, er, that album's just out now, double-CD full of good stuff, and includes of course Tonyís hits, and a welter of other gear too, so it's well worth seeking out. And we'll track down some of the others that have come out too! They've [Festival/Spin] released about five or six in the last week or so, that are worth tracking down and we might do that for ya too! Here's a little bit of "Something's Got A Hold On Me"....

Somethingís Got A Hold On Me plays...

Thanks to David Kilby, of ABC Radio 2CN, for permission to use the interview, and to Paul Culnane for the transcription.