Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Spinning Wheels - The Spinning Wheels (1965-66)

Melbourne 1964-66

1964. So strong was the impact of the first sniff of Anglo teen R&B on a Melbourne scene already primed by exposure to folk/skiffle/trad jazz/blues and galvanised by The Beatles that everyone wanted to find a way they too could be part of the youth explosion that was "The Swinging ‘60s".

Within weeks groups such as The Moods, The Pink Finks, The Wild Colonials, The Roadrunners and my own school boy band The Rising Sons were challenging the old guard for stage space at rock, now ‘mod’ venues and wiping out the entire jazz scene in one fell swoop.

The Spinning Wheels were the first with any real profile of these more rootsy bands -- we’d already had the Beatles clones such as The Flies and the rockers who became mods like Ray Brown & The Whispers, Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Ray Columbus & The Invaders - all of whom could play better than this slightly younger generation but who cared?

This was like punk vs. pub rock, many years later -- except the crowd clubs such as Berties, Sebastians, The Thumpin’ Tum and Catcher embraced it all.

As an aside it is also worth noting Normie Rowe, Tony Worsley and Dinah Lee [to name three] came from the rocker scene rather than the jazz/folk influences -- hence the more bluesy side of the equation was a subtle sub-group now lost in the sands of history.

The Wheels began as a folk/skiffle group called The Four Preachers with Don Hirst and Michael Perrin among their members until the Beatles revolution led them to electricity. After a few false starts and near misses with the likes of Issie Dye as vocalist [a man responsible for a lot of near misses] the line-up settled in to rehearse the music of The Stones, The Searchers, The Pretty Things and others - most of whom were copping the sounds of black R&B.

Enter managers Ian Oschlak and Gary Jagoda with big cigars and the idea of promoting ‘Australia’s Rolling Stones’. The rehearsal group duly christened in homage, The Spinning Wheels were set for a brief but frantic ride on the pop music roller coaster.

With their hair Stones style and wearing black skivvies and leather, Melbourne teenage girls had something to scream at and did. Hirst and Perrin, along with pint sized singer Rod Turnball, bass player Glen Sievers and drummer Graham Lord, rode the wave, quickly gaining a highly sought after HMV record deal by which time Oschlak and Jagoda had departed to foster more embryonic outfits [Pink Finks/Rising Sons/Glenn & The Outlaws] and the higher profile manager Carol West [Lynne Randell] had moved in.

First single Got My Mojo Working owed more to Manfred Mann’s version than Muddy Waters and was actually pretty lame -- as even the band would admit -- but it did the trick and fuelled demand for the group, reaching number 3 on the charts in Melbourne.

The group, who had been previously mauled by the judges on New Faces and greeted with derision outside of the hip inner city club confines now broke loose on the dance circuit. At the time it was possible, in fact required to play three dances in a night as far a field as Geelong to Frankston. Their biggest success was an Easter, then Christmas residency at Lorne’s Wild Colonial Club -- it was at one of these this writer depped for Don Hirst for a week thus becoming ‘the seventh Wheel’, ‘Long’ Tom Cowburn having taken the sixth berth prior to their first recording.

Cowburn in fact sung their finest recorded moment, Creepy John as well as taking over most lead guitar and also introduced the band to a track I’d been performing that week, I’m Saved, [originally recorded by LaVern Baker] which became their third [and last] single -- thus once again proving no one should ever listen to me!

By late 1966 Hirst had gone and come back again and Perrin and Cowburn were drafted for National Service. The Spinning Wheels moment in history was gone. They had got as high as number 8 on the national charts and definitely been a band very much of the time.

After plucking bass for Kush and other outfits Cowburn moved to Queensland and continued playing, Hirst went to Europe and did likewise, everybody else hung up their instruments. 

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